Most commuters stick to mask wearing despite lifting of mandate on public transportation
By Park Boram
SEOUL, March 20 (Yonhap) -- Most commuters remained masked up on Monday, the first day the yearslong mask mandate was lifted for public transportation, as many stay wary of lingering infection risks and under peer pressure to wear a mask in public spaces.
Wearing a mask is no longer mandatory on public transportation, such as buses, the subway or taxis, as one of the last-remaining COVID-19 restrictions came to an end in the country's efforts to return to pre-pandemic normalcy.
The decision came 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 mask mandate remains in place for medical facilities, pharmacies and other vulnerable facilities, such as nursing homes. Pharmacies at open public spaces, such as discount stores or train stations, will be exempt from the mask requirement.
On early Monday morning, all 12 people who were waiting for a train on the platform of Subway Line 9's Express Bus Terminal Station were wearing a mask.
One of them had his mask tucked under his chin but wore the mask back over his mouth and nose in haste to board the train as it arrived at the platform.
Most commuters at other busy subway stations in Seoul, such as Seoul Station, Jonggak and Sindorim, were also wearing masks in the early morning.
"I know I don't have to wear it, but I am wearing it by habit," Keum Hyung-cheol, a 30-year-old man, told Yonhap News Agency while waiting for a subway train at Sindorim Station.
"People may start to take it off when the weather becomes hot, and I think I might follow suit when that time comes. But for now, I am in for a mask," he said.
Another subway rider, a 64-year-old woman named Jeong Suk-jin, cited peer pressure as the reason why she continues to wear a mask on the subway.
"It may feel wrong to take off the mask when everyone else is wearing it," she said aboard a train on Subway Line 1. "I will take it off when others do so."
Only one of the 23 passengers who were on the first car of the train that left Subway Line 3's Sinsa Station in southern Seoul at around 7 a.m. was without a mask on.
Most passengers on high-speed KTX trains and buses were also seen wearing a mask.
"I will continue to wear a mask while using public transportation because I have a weak immune system," a 70-year-old bus rider, Kim Soon-deok, said. "I guess people in the same age group as I might do so for safety concerns."
A small minority of people relished the long-awaited return of life without a mask.
"I had felt suffocated and suffered pimples due to the mask," Park Dong-hwan, a 21-year-old man, told Yonhap News Agency at Seoul Station, without wearing a mask.
"I am happy to be without a mask now. There's no reason to be conscious of other people's looks now that the mandate is lifted."
The first day of the mask mandate's lifting on transportation coincided with a fine dust advisory issued across Seoul, causing some to give up or delay enjoying life without a mask.
"I know I can go maskless from today. But I left home with a mask on because of thick fine dusk," a 78-year-old man who identified himself by his family name Hwang said.
Government and health authorities have "actively" recommended mask wearing for public transportation users during rush hour, high-risk groups, and those having symptoms.
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