New infections drop below 50,000
Korea’s daily Covid-19 cases dropped below 50,000 on Monday, the first day of freedom from two years of social distancing regulations.
The country reported 47,743 new Covid-19 cases Monday, raising the total caseload to 16,353,495, according to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA). This was the first time in 68 days for cases to go below 50,000, since Feb. 9 when infections started to soar.
Along with the continued drop in new infections, the number of Covid-19 patients in critical condition totaled 850 as of Sunday midnight, down by 43 from the previous day.
There were 132 new deaths from Covid-19.
Starting Monday, nearly all social distancing restrictions ended with the exception of mask-wearing rules. The lifting of the restrictions came after a little more than two years.
While restrictions on social gatherings and a business curfew were completely lifted, mask-wearing is still required.
“Discussions on whether to lift [the outdoor mask mandate] will be initiated from next week,” Son Young-rae, senior epidemiological strategist at the Central Disaster Management Headquarters, told reporters on Monday. “We will comprehensively assess the virus situation and the potential risk once the mask mandate is lifted."
Korea plans to maintain its indoor mask mandate for a considerable period of time.
Currently, masks must be worn indoors, outdoors at crowded events and when within 2 meters of another person.
According to the government’s post-Omicron plan, quarantine obligations for those infected with the coronavirus will be lifted around May 23, though the schedule could be adjusted if case numbers increase or new variants emerge.
“It is important to [create] a culture where people can rest if they are sick even after quarantine becomes voluntary when confirmed with Covid-19,” Son said, adding that the authorities are considering establishing supplementary measures, including sickness benefits.
“Please remember that the lifting of social distancing rules does not mean the Covid-19 pandemic has come to an end,” Son said. “On a weekly average, the number of virus cases is around 100,000, and damages from virus-related deaths remain.”
Still, he said the lifting of social distancing rules won’t have a significant impact on the overall virus wave.
“[The impact of the lifting of distancing] would first appear in the number of new confirmed cases, so we will monitor the increasing trend for the next one to two weeks,” said Son.
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