Face masks mandatory on public transport
Published : May 25, 2020 - 15:42
Updated : May 25, 2020 - 17:41

The Korean government has decided to require all passengers on buses, taxis, subways and flights to wear masks, in order to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus.

The face-covering mandate, issued by the Central Disaster and Safety Countermeasure Headquarters, comes as more drivers and passengers are disregarding mask-wearing recommendations amid rising temperatures.

Under the new measure which goes into effect for buses and taxis on Tuesday, operators and drivers can temporarily refuse to carry passengers whose faces are not covered. This means they will be exempted in such cases from being punished for refusing passengers, which otherwise could face suspension of business or financial penalty.

Taxi and bus drivers also must wear masks at all times while carrying passengers. City and provincial governors will order corrective action to those who don’t comply with the new policy.

“We plan to implement the mask-wearing requirement for transportation sector with all municipal governments together, starting from tomorrow,” a senior official at the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport said during a briefing session Monday.

Administrative orders on mask-wearing were already in place in Seoul, Incheon and Daegu.

Railway and subway staff in stations will limit the ride of passengers without masks at ticket barriers and gates.

Starting Wednesday, the mask-wearing policy will be implemented on all domestic and international flights.

“This measure will enable passengers to use public transport at ease and prevent the spread of the infectious disease,” said the Central Disaster and Safety Countermeasure Headquarters.

The measure came as health authorities are staying vigilant as cases linked to a cluster that appeared in Seoul’s nightlife district of Itaewon in early May continue to emerge.

As of Monday noon, the number of cases linked to the Itaewon cluster reached to 237, adding new 12 cases from earlier. The patients include 96 people who visited clubs and other night entertainment facilities in Itaewon and other 141 who come into close contact with them.

Yoon Tae-ho, a senior Health Ministry official said the risk of the spread of COVID-19 in communities has been increasing due to the chain of transmission tied to the cluster infections but maintained the stance on keeping “everyday life quarantine” scheme unchanged, which was introduced on May 6 to enable citizens to carry out social and economic activities under quarantine rules.

“There is no large-scale infection in multiuse facilities. We are in the situation where patients occur within the range that our containment and medical system are able to respond,” Yoon said.

New infection cases continue to pop up sequentially in karaoke facilities, a restaurant and internet cafes involving a 25-year-old patient in Incheon, who lied about visiting Itaewon and had taught students at a cram school.

Some 52 people, including another seven who were infected through five stages of transmission, are believed to have been infected in a chain triggered by the Incheon patient, according to health authorities.

On Monday, a 6-year-old kindergartener was confirmed to have contracted the virus from a teacher at Young Rembrandts, a private art school in Magok, Gangseo-gu, in Seoul.

Health authorities advised 91 kindergarten and primary school students who attend the institution as well as three teachers and two parents to get tested. Operations of 13 educational institutions that share the same building with the art school have been suspended for disinfection.

The Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Monday that it decided to set up and operate a research system for Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children as related cases in children and adolescents with COVID-19 continue to be reported in Europe and the US.

In a separate briefing, the KCDC said the country reported 16 more cases of COVID-19, bringing the national’s total number of infections to date to 11,206.

The daily caseload of new infections dipped below 20 for the first time in four days. The death toll rose by one to 267.

Of the 11,206 people confirmed infected with COVID-19 since the first case was reported Jan. 20, 10,226 -- 91.25 percent -- have been released after making a full recovery.

By Park Han-na (