South Korea to ease mask mandate outdoors as COVID-19 slows

SEOUL – South Korea will relax its mandate for outdoor masks starting next week as COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations continue to decline.

Starting Monday, people outside will only be required to wear a mask when attending gatherings of more than 50 people or attending sporting and cultural events with potentially large crowds, health officials said in a briefing on Friday. The mask requirement for indoor areas and public transport also remains in place.

Health workers have diagnosed an average of around 63,000 new cases every day for the past seven days, including 50,568 in the last 24 hours – a drop since mid-March, when the country was reporting hundreds of thousands of infections a day at the peak of an omicron-driven surge. As hospitalizations and deaths slow, fewer than 30% of the country’s 2,800 intensive care units dedicated to COVID-19 patients are occupied.


South Korea had already lifted many of its pandemic restrictions earlier this month, including a 10-person limit for private social gatherings, a midnight curfew at restaurants, cafes and bars, and a ban on eating food at movie theaters, concert halls and indoor sports venues.

Jeong Eun-kyeong, commissioner of the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency, said weeks of falling infections despite easing social distancing suggests the country’s outbreak is stabilizing. She said health officials had concluded it was safe to relax the mask mandate because the risk of transmission was much lower outdoors and other countries had not seen a significant increase in infections after easing similar restrictions.

Jeong recommended that people still wear masks outdoors when they have symptoms such as a cough or fever, or when they are in crowded spaces like theme parks, where it is difficult for them to keep at least three feet away from others.


But the office of President-elect Yoon Suk Yeol, who takes office on May 10, has expressed concern that the move to relax the mask mandate may be premature. Hong Kyung-hee, spokesman for Yoon President’s Transitional Committee, said the committee recommended the government monitor virus trends for at least another month before deciding whether to relax the mask mandate.

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, transcribed or redistributed without permission. South Korea to ease mask mandate outdoors as COVID-19 slows

Jaclyn Diaz

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