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Mask mandate for all indoor spaces touches off controversy

National 16:29 April 12, 2021

SEOUL, April 12 (Yonhap) -- A tougher mask mandate that went into effect for all indoor public places nationwide on Monday is triggering a spate of controversy, as some people complain of inconvenience in their daily lives.

Beginning this week, mask wearing is mandatory in all public indoor spaces and on public transportation, including trains, taxis and ships, at all times, under authorities' bid to stem the spread of COVID-19. The mask mandate also applies to rallies, performances and outdoor settings where at least two meters of social distancing is not possible.

A standing signboard is set up at the entrance of an office building in downtown Seoul on April 12, 2021, to publicize mandatory mask wearing in all indoor public places. (Yonhap)

Violators are fined 100,000 won (US$89), and business operators who fail to abide by the new mask rule are subject to a fine of 1.5 million won. Previously, mask wearing was only required at certain facilities and according to the regional social distancing levels.

Discontent with the new tough mask mandate was particularly loud among customers of cafes and restaurants, as they were obliged to always wear a mask except when they drink coffee or eat.

Many cafe and restaurant customers complained of inconvenience as they are mandated to properly wear masks even for a moment when they are not sipping beverages or consuming food.

Many salaried workers also reacted sensitively to the new mask mandate, as they are obliged to wear face coverings inside their offices all day.

On the parts of business owners, the new mask rule is said to be very cumbersome, as they have to frequently ask customers to put on masks when not drinking or eating and emphasize mask wearing all the time.

At a cafe in Oksu-dong, central Seoul, four customers sitting together at one table were all wearing masks properly while talking. They seem accustomed to wearing masks indoors as they lowered masks only for a moment to drink coffee before putting them up again.

Customers pass by a signboard on a mask mandate at the entrance of a department store in Seoul on April 11, 2021. (Yonhap)

An owner of a restaurant in Suwon, south of Seoul, complained that he is usually busy with cooking and serving and thus finds it difficult to frequently ask his customers to put on a mask after finishing eating.

At another restaurant in Suwon, the owner also said that he feels embarrassed whenever some customers demand he ask other customers to wear a mask properly.

Confusion has also erupted among many office workers who fear the mandatory mask wearing would deter their work efficiency.

"I'm already used to wearing a mask while staying outside. But I may now feel a bit guilty if I unconsciously take off my mask at work due to stuffiness," said a company employee surnamed Kim.

Another company employee surnamed Lee said it may be difficult to completely comply with the mask mandate because communication is not clear when he makes a business phone call with a mask on.


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