Mask requirement for large groups outdoors lifted Monday
Masks won’t be required for outdoor group activities involving 50 people or more starting Monday, health authorities announced, lifting one of Korea’s last remaining Covid restrictions.
While people have been able to walk outside without masks, a mask requirement for participants in outdoor activities involving 50 people or more in a single setting had remained in place.
People at an outdoor festival or concert usually had to wear masks.
Now, people don’t have to wear masks at all when they’re outdoors, regardless of the size of the gathering.
However, masks still have to be worn in indoor spaces.
Health officials who spoke with the local media on the condition of anonymity have said that the indoor mask mandate, along with the seven-day quarantine for infected Covid-19 patients, will likely stay until the end of the year.
“With the indoor mask mandate,” said a local health official, “expert opinions are split half and half between those who say we still need it and those who argue it needs to end.”
While the government is reviewing both options, the official said there was a high chance the indoor mask mandate will remain in effect through the end of 2022 due largely to public opinion favoring the measure and a strong possibility that the number of new infections will once again surge in the winter.
Korea is the only country among OECD member states that requires face masks in all indoor facilities.
Other Covid-related restrictions still in place in Korea are a mandatory seven-day quarantine for infected people and a PCR test requirement for all passengers arriving from a foreign country.
A health official said local authorities were currently looking into easing the PCR test requirement, given that only 0.96 percent of people who arrived from abroad over the past month were found to have caught the virus overseas.
The prohibiting of face-to-face visits at hospitals and nursing homes for the elderly is also being reviewed, the health official added.
The eased outdoor mask restriction was announced as the nation counted 25,792 new infections on Saturday, fewer than Friday’s 29,353.
It was the lowest number of infections for a Saturday in 11 weeks.
Over the past week, an average of 32,259 people tested positive for the coronavirus each day.
There were 416 Covid patients in critical or serious condition on Saturday, two less than the day before. But 73 patients died, 10 more than the previous day. About 70 percent of those who died Saturday were 80 years old or above.
While announcing the lifted outdoor mask measure last Friday, Peck Kyong-ran, commissioner of the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA), mentioned data showing Korea was past its peak of the sixth wave and noted that major virus control indicators all showed that the country has entered a “stabilized” phase.
But Peck warned that the latest easing doesn’t mean masks were absolutely unnecessary outdoors.
The KDCA chief advised people to wear masks outdoors when they are with a person with Covid-like symptoms or an elderly person or in a setting where screaming is involved.
About 97 percent of Korea’s population is estimated to have antibodies for the coronavirus due to vaccination or recovery from infection, health officials announced the same day, based on a test they ran on a sample of 10,000 people.
BY LEE SUNG-EUN [firstname.lastname@example.org]