SEOUL, Feb. 1 (Yonhap) — South Korean small merchants’ business confidence sank to a 10-month nadir in January amid a new wave of the novel coronavirus in the country, a poll showed Monday.

The Small Enterprise and Market Service said its business survey index (BSI) for small merchants came to 35.8 last month, down 15.8 points from a month earlier.

It was the lowest level since March last year, when Asia’s fourth-largest economy was gripped by the second wave of COVID-19, whose first local case was reported two months earlier.

A reading below 100 means pessimists outnumber optimists. The survey of 3,700 small merchants nationwide was taken from Jan. 18-22.

The small merchant BSI fell to 54.9 in September but recovered to 79.9 in November before tumbling to 51.6 in December.

The findings also showed the BSI for traditional markets coming to 33.5 in January, down 11.3 points from December and the lowest reading since March.

South Korea has been implementing Level 2.5 social distancing rules in the greater Seoul area, home to half of its 51.6 million population, and Level 2 rules in the rest of the country, since early December in a bid to stem the spread of the coronavirus outbreak.

The anti-coronavirus steps have pounded self-employed small merchants, as well as the manufacturing and service industries.

The novel coronavirus has so far infected more than 78,000 South Koreans, with the country’s death toll from the flu-like disease numbering 1,420 as of Sunday.