South Korea lifts indoor mask mandate as cases fall to seven-month low
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, the KDCA said.
The move came as South Korea’s current medical response system is now capable of managing the virus situation, the public health agency said, as the new infections, as well as the number of critically ill cases and Covid-19 deaths, have been stabilised.
The country reported 7,416 new cases, including 22 from overseas, bringing the total caseload to 30,157,017, according to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency.
It is the lowest level since July 4 last year when the daily caseload came to 6,239. Monday’s figure also was around 20 percent lower than the number logged a week earlier.
The country added 30 Covid-19 deaths, bringing the death toll to 33,420. The number of critically ill patients came to 402, down from 420 the previous day, the KDCA said.
In May, South Korea lifted the outdoor mask mandate in a major step toward supporting people’s return to normalcy.
As mask requirements were eased, confusion lingered among students, teachers and workers demanding accurate and detailed guidelines for schools and workplaces.
A second grade elementary school student named Lee Sang-hyun who lives in Gangnam-gu, 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. I’ve been used to it for two years, so it’s not that uncomfortable.”
Some teachers said there won’t be a dramatic change at schools as some students, especially those in teenage groups, have not been following the rules from months before.
“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 to ease the regulations.
“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, kids take off their masks anyway during lunch and dinner times.”
Many private cram school, or hagwon, officials are reacting cautiously to the partial lifting of the indoor mask mandate. An association of private institutes in Gangnam recommended the students to wear masks by February.
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 it. But as it is not an obligation anymore, 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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