The South Korean Government decided to ease restrictions that were imposed on mask mandate, starting from midnight (KST). There are still some exemptions, such as for public transport and hospitals.
Although Monday marks the end of the countrywide indoor mask mandate– with a few exceptions including hospitals and public transportation, it is uncertain whether Korean citizens, who have become accustomed to wearing masks for the past three years, will quickly quit doing so.
People will no longer need to wear masks indoors: with the exception of hospitals, nursing homes, pharmacies, welfare centres for people with disabilities, and public transportation, according to a Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) statement.
According to the KDCA, the decision to loosen the mask-wearing restriction was made based on four metrics: the number of new cases, hospitalizations, medical capacity, and elderly patients’ immunization rates.
“The daily number of new infections is continuing to decline and despite concerns over a spike in cases in China, the situation here is under control without major troubles,” Prime minister Han Duck-soo explained the reason behind the lift, during a COVID response meeting.
However, people must still wear masks when riding the metro.
After Beijing abruptly changed its policy and abandoned a stringent anti-virus regime of mass lockdowns, South Korea has ordered COVID tests for travelers arriving from China.
The statement on Friday comes precisely three years to the day after South Korea first announced a COVID virus epidemic on Jan. 20, 2020, and as numerous South Koreans prepare to celebrate the Lunar New Year and travel back to their hometowns.
It is still required to wear a mask on school buses since they are considered public transportation, despite the fact that the rule has been lifted in schools, private cram schools, and kindergartens. The requirement to wear a mask is no longer in effect at stores and malls, although customers should still do so while entering pharmacies located within these establishments.
Medical experts emphasized that the vulnerable population and those exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms are “strongly recommended” to cover up and stated that the relaxation of the regulation does not mean that masks are no longer effective in inhibiting the transmission of the virus.
Citizens Not Likely to Ditch Masks Anytime Soon
On Jan 11 and 12, Lotte Members surveyed 2,200 participants, and the results showed that 66% of those polled revealed they would still cover their faces indoors even if they were not required to. When given the option of choosing more than one response, 68 percent of respondents said they would wear masks on trains and buses, 52 percent in stores and other retail establishments, 52 percent in theatres and concert halls, and 47 percent at weddings and funerals.
Due to persisting epidemic risks, nearly 60% of respondents stated they felt uneasy about removing their masks.
Meanwhile, the KDCA is also engaged in discussions concerning the seven-day mandatory self-isolation rule on virus carriers, the last remaining curb in South Korea at present.