Korea is planning to lift the mandate to wear masks indoors, which has been in effect since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.
“The adjustment of the indoor mask mandate will take place around January to March next year,” Commissioner Paek Kyeong-ran of the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) said in a briefing on Wednesday. However, the KDCA stressed that lifting the mask mandate does not mean masks are unnecessary. The rules' easing will shift from ‘mandatory,’ which enforces fines if masks are not worn, to ‘recommended,’ and voluntary mask-wearing will continue to be encouraged.
Nevertheless, wearing masks may still be mandatory at hospitals or care facilities. “Even if the indoor mask mandate is revised, rules may still be enforced mandatorily for facilities to protect high-risk groups,” Paek explained. Health authorities will discuss specifics of rule easing via public expert roundtable, etc., and will make the announcement public by the end of the month.
Health authorities say that the vaccination rate for COVID-19 mutations should be higher to lift the mask mandate. Chairman Cheong Ki-seok of the National Infectious Disease Crisis Response Advisory Committee suggested that vaccination rate for the elderly reaching 50% should be a prerequisite to lifting the indoor mask mandate. As of Wednesday midnight, the vaccination rate for seniors above 60 is 23.2%, which is less than half of the target.
According to a study by the U.K. Health Security Agency, which was made public by the KDCA, those who received improved vaccines had a 57% higher prevention rate than those who received basic vaccines. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of the U.S. had also announced studies that the improved vaccines increased prevention rate by 28-56%.