Korean city upsets the applecart with mask mandate memo
Daejeon’s announcement that it will lift the indoor mask mandate effective Jan. 1 brings it into conflict with national health authorities and challenges one of Korea’s last remaining Covid restrictions.
While local authorities can have tougher rules than those mandated by the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA), in order to institute standards less stringent, they must consult with the KDCA first.
According to health officials, Daejeon city government sent a document to the KDCA on Nov. 30, notifying the authorities that it will issue an administrative order of its own lifting the mandatory mask-wearing rule if the central government fails to do so by Dec. 15. The city reportedly said it will lift the rule from Jan. 1.
It is the first time that a local government has publicly voiced opposition to the mask rule.
The city has questioned the effectiveness of the mandate, as most people in restaurants and cafes are already not wearing masks. It also cited negative impact on the emotional and language development.
Daejeon Mayor Lee Jang-woo said in a meeting on Nov. 4 that individuals should decide whether to wear a mask or not.
“The United States and Europe have completely lifted their mask mandates, and Turkey, where I went on a business trip, also lifted theirs a long time ago,” Lee said.
Only few countries maintain the indoor mask mandate, and some countries require them only in certain places, such as in hospitals and on public transportation.
The KDCA expressed concerns citing the ongoing seventh wave of the pandemic and emphasizing a uniform response. Last year, the southern cities of Daegu and Gyeongju were stopped from easing rules on business curfews.
“As the operation of a unitary network on public health measures is important, we plan to closely consult with the city government of Daejeon to go together with the central government’s measures,” the KDCA said in a press release on Friday.
“Measures against Covid-19 have been implemented through discussions and consultations at the Central Disaster and Safety Countermeasures Headquarters, involving related ministries and 17 cities and provinces,” the press release read. “The heads of each local government have been able to decide on their own for stronger measures, while eased measures had to go through prior consultation with the central government.”
The KDCA said it will discuss a decision on the lifting of the indoor mask mandate through related consultations.
“While continuing the monitoring of the winter wave, we plan to specify the period of easing the regulation on indoor mask-wearing through an open forum and a discussion with the advisory committee,” it said.
The first forum with a panel of experts on the pandemic response is scheduled for Dec. 15. After canvassing opinions of experts through a series of debates and a meeting with the advisory committee, the Central Disaster and Safety Countermeasures Headquarters plans to make a final decision.
Even if such discussions take place, Korea is likely to remove its indoor mask rule early next year.
Jung Ki-suck, a medical professor at Hallym University Sacred Heart Hospital and head of an advisory committee to the government on the pandemic, has suggested “spring next year” when the indoor masking rule can be lifted on the premise that “no new virus variants appear.”
BY SEO JI-EUN [firstname.lastname@example.org]