South Korea lifts indoor mask mandate as cases fall to seven-month low

Starting Monday, people can visit most places, including schools, kindergartens and gyms, without masks. PHOTO: REUTERS

SEOUL – South Korea on Monday lifted most mandatory indoor mask-wearing rules after more than two years amid a recent Covid-19 downtrend, with infections for the day falling to the lowest level in about seven months.

Starting Monday, people can visit most places, including schools, kindergartens and gyms, without masks, as the government lifted the indoor mask mandate that had been enforced since October 2020.

Still, the mask mandate will remain in place at hospitals, pharmacies and on public transportation, said public health agency Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA).

The move comes as South Korea’s current medical response system is now capable of managing the virus situation, KDCA said, adding that the numbers of new infections, critically ill cases and Covid-19 deaths have stabilised.

The country reported 7,416 new cases on Monday, including 22 from overseas, bringing the total caseload to 30,157,017, said KDCA. This was the lowest number since July 4, 2022, when the daily caseload was 6,239. Monday’s figure was around 20 per cent lower than the number logged a week earlier.

South Korea added 30 Covid-19 deaths on Monday, bringing the death toll to 33,420. The number of critically ill patients came in at 402, down from 420 the previous day.

In May, South Korea lifted its outdoor mask mandate in a major step towards supporting a return to normality. As mask requirements were eased, confusion lingered among students, teachers and workers demanding accurate and detailed guidelines for schools and workplaces.

Second-grade elementary school student Lee Sang-hyun, who lives in Gangnam-gu in Seoul, has never experienced mask-free school life, as he entered elementary school during the pandemic.

He said: “I will keep wearing masks because I think it will be dangerous to go without them. I’m used to it now, so it’s not that uncomfortable.”

Some teachers said there will not be a dramatic change in schools as some students, especially those in teenage groups, have not been following the rules for months.

“This easing of mask obligations doesn’t feel like such a dramatic change,” said Ms Jang Hwa-kyung, a high-school teacher in Incheon, adding that she thinks it is about time the regulations are eased.

“In the early days of Covid-19, children followed the rules, but as time went by, their awareness decreased. As I recall, the mask mandate has not been strictly followed since last summer,” she said, adding that there are many obstacles to fully monitoring her students.

“Teachers can make students wear masks during class time, but honestly, it is impossible to keep it that way during break times. Also, the children take off their masks anyway during lunch and dinner time.”

Many private cram school officials are reacting cautiously to the partial lifting of the indoor mask mandate.

A teacher at DaechiPL Academy in Gangnam-gu said that opinions are divided among teachers. “Some teachers say they will encourage everyone to wear masks, while others say they will only ask children with cold symptoms to wear one. But as it is no longer a mandate, it will be hard to enforce if children resist.”

He also hinted that to adolescents, masks are sometimes considered a way to cover one’s face rather than as a protective measure against the virus. “Some children said they would keep wearing masks to cover their faces because they are worried about their appearance, aside from Covid-19,” he said. THE KOREA HERALD/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

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