(2nd LD) S. Korea to end mask mandate for public transportation next week
(ATTN: UPDATES with more info in 3rd, last 2 paras)
By Park Boram
SEOUL, March 15 (Yonhap) -- South Korea will end the mask mandate for public transportation next week, the government announced Wednesday, lifting one of the last-remaining COVID-19 restrictions amid a stable virus situation.
Vice Interior Minister Han Chang-seob said during a government COVID-19 response meeting that the lifting will go into effect Monday. The decision came as South Korea's daily virus tally continues its downward trend, reaching 11,401 cases Tuesday.
Currently, wearing a mask is mandatory on public transportation, including buses, subways and taxis, as well as at hospitals, pharmacies and other high-risk facilities, such as nursing homes, after the government lifted the indoor mask mandate on Jan. 30 except for those places.
"Since the adjustment of mask-wearing requirements on Jan. 30, the virus situation has been in stable condition, registering a 38 percent fall in the average daily virus infections and a 55 percent fall in new seriously ill patients," Han noted.
But mask wearing is "actively recommended for public transportation users during rush hour, high-risk groups, and those having symptoms," he said.
The mask mandate will remain in place for medical facilities, pharmacies and other vulnerable facilities, but pharmacies at open public spaces, such as discount stores or train stations, will be exempt from the requirement.
The latest decision comes two years and five months after the government made it mandatory to wear a mask on public transportation in October 2020 at the height of the pandemic.
The vice interior minister also said the government will gradually resume international passenger ferry services between South Korea and China, starting Monday. Such services were suspended in January 2020 amid the pandemic's onset.
With all mask requirements nearly coming to an end, the seven-day self-quarantine mandate for COVID-19 patients remains the country's last major COVID-19 restriction as the nation heads back to pre-pandemic normalcy.
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