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Korea lifts mask mandate on public transportation

Posted March. 20, 2023 07:48,   

Updated March. 20, 2023 07:48


Effective today, March 19, passengers will no longer be required to wear masks on public transportation such as subways, buses, taxis, trains, and airplanes. This regulation will be lifted in 888 days since it was enforced on October 13, 2020. Mask-wearing is also not required in pharmacies in open areas such as large marts or train terminals. The indoor mask mandate is only effective in facilities susceptible to infection, such as pharmacies, hospitals, or welfare facilities for the disabled.

The government’s decision to remove mandatory mask-wearing on public transportation is because the seventh wave of the COVID pandemic, which started in winter last year, has ended, and the risk of a new pandemic caused by a new mutant virus is unlikely. Despite the partial removal of mandatory wearing of masks in indoor facilities as of January 30, the number of daily confirmed and seriously ill patients continues to decline. We are finally reaching the end of the pandemic, which has infected more than 30 million people domestically and caused 34,000 deaths over the last three years.

However, the COVID-19 crisis alert in Korea remains at the highest level of ‘serious.’ The government will adjust the alert level downwards and scrap mask regulations only after the World Health Organization (WHO) lifts the ‘public health emergency of international national concern’ alert in late April or early May. As the fatality rate of COVID-19 for those aged 60 or older is 0.12-1.94%, which is higher than the flu, we must remain vigilant in protecting seniors and those with underlying diseases. It is safe to wear masks in limited, densely populated, and closed areas such as subways and buses during commuting hours. Mask-wearing and hand washing during the pandemic helped reduce flu infections. We need to continue this practice post-COVID-19.

Meanwhile, the government should accelerate efforts to support people recovering from the pandemic. Endemic blues, the feeling of depression after a calamity ends, is more concerning than the ‘pandemic blues.’ Many people, particularly those among the vulnerable, feel socially isolated because they have no one to reach out to when they are sick. We need programs to help them recover psychologically and mentally.

Infectious diseases are growing more frequent due to climate change and increased interactions among nations. It took seven years between the outbreak of SARS in 2002 and the swine flu in 2009, but it took only six years from them to MERS in 2015 and five years for COVID-19 to occur. We must re-engineer our infrastructure to respond to infectious diseases, from watching, quarantine, and prevention. We may not be able to prevent future infectious diseases from happening altogether, but we can reduce the impact by preparation.