Face masks or coverings will no longer be required indoors in Korea starting Monday, except in high-risk places such as hospitals and on public transportation like buses and trains.
Places that will be mask-free include schools, kindergartens, child care centers and department stores. Also on the mask-free list are outdoor and indoor spaces at subway and train stations and airports.
The requirement to wear face masks at virus-prone facilities such as hospitals, long-term care facilities, pharmacies and public transportation like chartered buses, taxis and flights is still in place. The mandate will begin after the four-day Seollal holiday from Saturday to Tuesday to avoid a potential post-holiday surge.
Indoor masking will only remain “highly recommended” by the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency.
It will be strongly advised for one’s safety and those prone to the virus in congested areas and if the ventilation is deemed poor. Those who have come into close contact with a COVID-19 patient, a person showing COVID-19-like symptoms or a person with a high risk of the virus are also encouraged to wear masks.
In addition, fines for not wearing masks will only be applied to places where the indoor mandate remains in place. A policy violation is punishable with a fine of up to 100,000 won ($81).
The seven-day quarantine requirement for those infected is still valid.
Health authorities said the decision comes as COVID-19 infection cases have been waning, and the country has also been seeing a stabilized virus situation.
On Tuesday, the country reported 12,262 new infected cases, including 31 from overseas, falling under 20,000 for three days in a row. Ten more deaths were reported on Tuesday as well.
Meanwhile, the KDCA said it would discuss fully lifting the indoor mask mandate if the infectious disease crisis level is lowered to either “attention” or “caution.” The crisis warning system is classified into four stages: attention, caution, alert and serious, with serious being the most critical phase.
The indoor mask mandate was the last remaining COVID-19 measure implemented here to help curb the virus spread.