Outdoor mask rule may be history soon
The incoming president may not approve, but Korea's outdoor mask rule is likely to be called off on Friday, according to sources within the Central Disaster and Safety Countermeasures Headquarters.
On Wednesday, president-elect Yoon Suk-yeol's transition team and health authorities made conflicting announcements on whether it was wise to lift the outdoor mask rule.
On Thursday, the Central Disaster and Safety Countermeasures Headquarters said it was leaning towards lifting the mask requirement despite the transition team's position.
"Even after social distancing measures have been lifted, including restrictions on the number of people at private gatherings and business hours for restaurants and other facilities, the number of confirmed cases continues to decrease," said an official from the headquarters Thursday. "Death rates and the number of critically ill patients are also declining.
"Our judgement is that it is possible to lift the outdoor mask rule, especially considering that the possibility of infection transmission is significantly lower than indoors," the official added.
A meeting of ministers relevant to the issue was also held Thursday afternoon to discuss the lifting of the mask rule, though no decision was announced as of press time.
On Wednesday, the Covid-19 Emergency Task Force of Yoon's transition team unveiled a 100-day roadmap that said the outdoor mask rule would be maintained until the end of May.
Ahn Cheol-soo, leader of Yoon's transition team, said in a press conference Wednesday, "We are going to make a decision [on lifting the outdoor mask rule] based on the situation in late May," and expressed worries about dropping the mask rule too soon.
Health authorities refuted this position. An official of the Central Disaster and Safety Countermeasures Headquarters said Thursday, "There is no reason to not lift the outdoor mask rule.
"It could be a problem in places where a lot of people gather, but we can ask people to wear their masks in such places. For parks, mountain tracks and walkways, there won't be a problem if people don't wear masks. We should be lenient here."
Regarding the transition team's position, the official added, "I think they are worried because we still have a lot of confirmed cases in Korea, but in those cases, the transmission of the virus is not happening outdoors."
"Almost no other country still has an outdoor mask rule," the official pointed out.
For the first time in 11 weeks, Korea's daily new Covid-19 infections fell below 60,000 on Thursday to 57,464. This brings the total caseload to 17,144,065, while 122 new deaths were reported, bringing the total number of deaths to 22,588.
However, the number of critically ill patients rose to 552, six more than Wednesday.
BY LIM JEONG-WON [email@example.com]