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Face masks no longer required indoors in Korea from Jan. 30

Jan. 20, 2023 - 10:22 By Kim Arin
Prime Minister Han Duk-soo speaks at a government meeting of COVID-19 response on Friday. (Yonhap)

Starting Jan. 30, wearing face masks will no longer be required indoors in Korea -- a move that comes three years after the mandate was introduced.

Prime Minister Han Duk-soo told a government meeting Friday that with the exception of some high-risk places including hospitals, pharmacies and public transit, face masks will cease being mandatory.

“COVID-19 cases have been on the decline for three weeks in a row, and the situation has remained stable in Korea,” he said, adding that he believed the country was ready to move on.

Jee Young-mee, commissioner of the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency, said in a press briefing held the same day that though the mandate is being lifted, wearing face masks would remain “highly recommended.”

“If you’ve come into a close contact with a COVID-19 patient or someone with COVID-19-like symptoms, you should be careful and wear mask around others. Whenever you are with someone at high risk of severe COVID-19, you should be wearing a mask.” she said.

“In crowded places or places with poor ventilation, you are strongly advised to wear a mask for your own safety and the safety of people who are vulnerable.”

Jee said that the end of the mandate would begin Jan. 30, following the long Seollal holiday weekend from Saturday to Tuesday, to avoid a post-holiday surge.

The upcoming Seollal is the second major national holiday without social distancing rules, following Chuseok in September.

For the past week, Korea has been posting 32,866 cases and 41 deaths per day on average, down from the prior week’s 47,837 cases and 56 deaths.

The share of cases of the omicron BA.5 subvariant, which has been dominant here since July, dropped below 50 percent for the first time in the second week of December, giving way to BN.1 and other variants.

Friday marks three years since Korea identified its first case of COVID-19. The cumulative count as of Thursday midnight stood at 29,955,366 cases and 33,134 deaths.