S.Korea likely to lift outdoor mask mandate, most Covid curbs this month

S.Korea likely to lift outdoor mask mandate, most Covid curbs this month

People wearing face masks to prevent contracting from the coronavirus disease walk at Incheon airport in Incheon, South Korea, on March 25, 2022. (Reuters photo)
People wearing face masks to prevent contracting from the coronavirus disease walk at Incheon airport in Incheon, South Korea, on March 25, 2022. (Reuters photo)

SEOUL: South Korea said on Friday it would further relax its social distancing rules next week and possibly scrap most pandemic-related curbs later this month, including an obligation to wear masks outdoors.

From April 4, a curfew on eateries and other businesses will be pushed back to midnight from 11pm, and private gatherings of up to 10 people will be allowed, Health Minister Kwon Deok-cheol said.

The decision is South Korea's latest step in easing anti-coronavirus measures, after scrapping vaccine mandates and a mandatory quarantine for vaccinated travellers arriving from overseas, despite an ongoing Omicron wave.

The government will look into removing restrictions, except for wearing masks indoors, if the daily caseload continues to fall and the medical system for severe patients is stably managed over the next two weeks, Kwon said.

The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) reported 280,273 infections for Thursday, bringing the total tally to 13,375,818, with 16,590 deaths.

Saturated crematories

Kwon said the wave had topped out since its mid-March peak when the daily count of cases had surpassed 620,000, though it is possible critical cases and deaths could rise further.

A recent surge in severe cases and deaths has saturated crematories and funeral homes nationwide.

To lessen the strain, the government will ease funeral regulations and lift a ban on burying Covid-19 victims, Kwon said.

South Korea has largely managed to limit deaths and critical cases through widespread vaccinations, and scaled back its once-aggressive tracing and containment efforts, though it still tests robustly.

Nearly 87% of the 52 million population are fully vaccinated, with 64% having received booster shots, according to the KDCA data.

Koreans now appear more ready to travel. Polls showed people are increasingly less worried about the impact of catching the virus, and see its prevention as out of their hands.

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