SEOUL, South Korea — As COVID-19 cases decline, South Korea has relaxed rules requiring masks to be worn outdoors, but many people are still using them off yet due to pervasive Omicron infections.
The mandate was lifted on Monday, May 2, as the latest step toward loosening distance restrictions, despite resistance from President-elect Yoon Suk-transition yeol’s team, which termed the action premature.
On the busy streets of Gwanghwamun, where government and corporate buildings are located, the majority of people were spotted wearing masks, claiming that the protection helps them feel safer.
“I tried taking it off before leaving the house, but 70-80% of the folks I saw downtown were wearing it.” Even when we’re outside, I feel it’s too early to get rid of it,” Lee Byung-young, 61, told Reuters.
If daily infections fell to around 5,000, Kim Eun-hee, 52, said she would feel comfortable without a mask.
The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) recorded 20,084 new COVID-19 cases on Sunday, May 1, down from a high of more than 620,000 cases in mid-March.
Indoors and during outdoor events with 50 or more attendees, such as rallies, concerts, and sports stadiums, masks are still necessary.
Around 80% of the hundreds of visitors to Hyochang Park in central Seoul wore masks.
Oh Ho-young, a 71-year-old local, said she was relieved to be able to go for a walk without wearing a mask for the first time in two years.
“I’ve been here to jog for a long time,” she said, “but walking without a mask today feels so fresh and amazing.”
Through aggressive tracking and testing, as well as extensive immunization, the country of 52 million people has managed to keep its overall caseload to 17,295,733 with 22,958 deaths.
Lee Geun-young, 34, who was wearing a mask, said he would stick to wearing one until COVID-19 becomes less concerning.
“I, too, miss the pre-pandemic days when we lived without a mask,” he said from Hyochang Park.
“It is inconvenient, but it’s better to stay careful not only for myself but not to cause harm to others.”