South Korea said on Friday it would lift its outdoor mask mandate next week in response to a steady decline in COVID-19 cases following an omicron-fueled surge.
The announcement comes after Seoul dropped almost all other social-distancing measures earlier this month, ending two years of strict requirements that have put heavy pressure on the country’s small businesses.
Health officials said that from Monday, residents would not be required to wear face masks outside unless attending an event with more than 50 participants.
Jeong Eun-kyeong, director of the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA), told reporters, “As social-distancing measures are lifted and mask mandates are adjusted, people are increasingly going back to their normal lives.” I’m returning.”
“It’s all thanks to people’s patience and cooperation over a long period of time,” Jeong said.
South Korea’s incoming administration, headed by conservative President-elect Yoon Suk-wai, on Friday criticized the decision to “prematurely” end the mask mandate, questioning whether it would be a complete “virus prevention”. measures”.
Ahn Cheol-soo, head of the Eun Ki transition team, said earlier that the new government planned to make a decision on the mandate in May.
South Korea on Friday reported 50,568 new coronavirus cases, down from a peak of more than 620,000 in a day in mid-March.
KDCA’s Jeong said there has been a “constant reduction” in COVID-19 cases for the past six weeks.
“The number of new critically ill patients is also decreasing,” she said, adding that hospitals had enough beds to treat new patients.
More than 86% of South Korea’s 51 million people have been fully vaccinated, most of whom have also received a booster shot.
About 22,700 people have died from the coronavirus in the country – a 0.13% mortality rate, one of the lowest in the world.