South Korea dropping most indoor mask curbs

SEOUL, South Korea (AFP) — South Korea will drop rules that require people to wear masks in most indoor spaces, authorities said Friday, ending one of the country’s last major pandemic restrictions as Covid-19 cases dwindle.

From 30 January, it will no longer be mandatory to wear masks in most indoor spaces, except on public transport and in medical facilities.

The mask mandate has been in place since October 2020, and is one of South Korea’s last remaining pandemic-era restrictions, with other rules from business curfews to social distancing long dropped.

The country still makes it mandatory for those who get officially diagnosed with Covid to isolate themselves for seven days.

“The adjustments on the mandatory indoor mask mandate will be implemented from Monday, January 30th, after the Lunar New Year holiday,” Jee Young-mee, the head of the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency, said.

Prime Minister Han Duck-soo said the plan was to change the indoor mask mandate from “required to recommended,” he told a government Covid response meeting.

He said the decision had been made in view of the country’s solid medical response capabilities, the decreased number of critical cases and deaths from the coronavirus, and a downward trend in new infections.

“External risk factors were also judged to be sufficiently manageable,” he said, in an apparent reference to Seoul’s response to the recent surge in cases in China.

Seoul earlier this month implemented a host of new rules for visitors from China, including visa restrictions and testing requirements.

China last week suspended issuing short-term visas to South Koreans, in apparent retaliation for restrictions imposed on Chinese travelers over outbreak concerns.

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