South Korea has announced the removal of the mask mandate for public transportation starting 20th March Monday, eliminating a COVID-19 preventative measure in place since 2020. The change applies to public buses, school buses, subways, KTX bullet trains, taxis, and airplanes. This marks one of the final COVID-19 restrictions in the country, with outdoor mask mandates lifted in May last year and indoor mandates ending in January.
The decision comes as South Korea sees a downward trend in new COVID-19 cases, with 11,899 new cases reported on Wednesday, a decrease of around 900 from the same day the previous week. Health authorities have cited a 38% drop in average daily virus infections and a 55% fall in new seriously ill patients since the adjustment of mask-wearing requirements on January 30th.
Although the mandate is being lifted, the government still strongly recommends that individuals with symptoms or those in high-risk groups wear masks during rush hour. Masks will no longer be required in pharmacies, open public spaces such as train stations, and discount stores, but will still be mandatory in medical institutions, general pharmacies, and other vulnerable facilities.
The country’s last significant COVID-19 restriction, a seven-day isolation mandate for COVID-19 patients, is also under discussion, with a final decision expected this month.
The move follows a growing trend of countries lifting mask mandates in public spaces, with several European countries and New Zealand only requiring masks in medical institutions. In contrast, the US, UK, France, the Netherlands, Denmark, and Singapore have removed mask requirements altogether.