With all social distancing rules but mask-wearing set to end this week, South Koreans are eager to return to complete pre-COVID-19 normalcy without masks, but some say masking is too beneficial to let go of even after the pandemic is over.
Starting Monday, all COVID-19 infection prevention requirements, barring the mask mandate, will be lifted, including a curfew on operating hours of restaurants, cafes and other small businesses as well as the cap on the size of private gatherings.
This will make mask-wearing, currently required indoors and partly outdoors, the last remaining restriction on social life after nearly two years of social distancing rules that were adopted in the onset of COVID-19 in early 2020.
Many South Koreans said they can't wait until the return of normal maskless life while others spoke for the benefits of mask-wearing, saying they will keep on wearing masks even after the pandemic is gone.
"Until lately, I told myself 'I will never take off the mask,' but with the weather getting warmer every day I have a new desire to take it off," a user of an internet community wrote.
"How much more suffocating it may feel in the summer, I can't imagine. Having to keep a mask on is wearing me out and I want to return to the former maskless normal life as soon as possible," she said.
Another community member chimed in, saying "If you look at other countries, nearly everyone has no mask on. I now want my normal everyday life back."
Others, however, are either too wary of lingering infection risks or too aware of the blessings of mask-wearing.
"I started to wear a mask even before COVID-19 when it wasn't required because I hate cigarette smoke, dust storm or fine dust," a woman anonymously wrote online.
Another online community user said her family will continue to wear masks regardless of the presence of a mask mandate, to fend off infection risks.
"I will keep wearing it. No one in my family has tested positive for COVID-19 yet and my second child is still very young," she said.
Others also cited having become habituated or not having to do makeup as reasons they want to retain mask-wearing.
The government has said the indoor mask-wearing requirement will be unavoidable for "a considerable time." But it said it will decide whether to lift the mask mandate in less-risky outdoor places after monitoring the infection prevention situation over the following two weeks.
Many people started to wear a mask early on and strict mask-wearing had often been touted by foreign media outlets as the key to South Korea's successful infection prevention efforts in the early stage of the pandemic
Amid a shortage of masks and runaway mask prices, the government introduced a mask rationing scheme via pharmacies in March 2020 and ran it for four months until the supply stabilized.
Since November that year, mask-wearing has been mandatory in indoor public places as well as in crowds outdoors. (Yonhap)