[Editorial] Don’t lower your guard until it’s over

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[Editorial] Don’t lower your guard until it’s over

An advisory committee on national response to contagious diseases crisis has advised public health authorities to lift the mandate on indoor mask-wearing. The timing of the lifting would be decided by the Central Disaster and Safety Countermeasures Headquarters. Indoor mask-wearing has become compulsory to avoid fines from November 2020. Mask had been a part of everyday life for Koreans for three years since the spring of 2020.

There has been much debate on the removal of face masks as the danger still remains. Since mask-wearing has long been up to individuals in the United States and elsewhere, many among the leadership of the governing People Power Party (PPP) and local government heads have been calling for the lifting of the mandatory mask-wearing. But some argue it is too early, pointing to the rapid rise in new cases in China. Our public health authorities have set four guidelines, including weekly count in patients and vaccination rate, and offered to consider a lifting if conditions in three out of four criteria are met.

Even when face masks are not binding, their importance must not be forgotten. Masks were the most effective protection for Koreans when there was no vaccines or cure. Masks were in short supply in the spring of 2020 and went up to 4,000 won ($3.20) apiece.

Amid dire shortages, voice phishing crimes flourished with offers of bundles of masks. The government finally stepped in to designate public distributors. A public distributor came under police investigation for selling masks without registering with the Ministry of Food and Drug Safety.

The government enforced mask-wearing after supplies became sufficient. Non-compliance was levied with 100,000 won in fines. Passengers got into fights with bus drivers over mask-wearing and celebrities came under fire when they posted photos without masks on social media. Elders who forgot to bring their masks were turned away at restaurants. The scenes would become history after the rule is lifted.

But the guard must not be lowered. Masks will remain compulsory at public transport and medical facilities. Vaccination rate — one of the four criteria — does not meet the goal. Out of 14.5 million people who were categorized as a “highly risky group,” 5.8 million do not have immunity, according to the head of the advisory commission. Although face masks are not mandatory outdoors, many still have them on. The habit should be kept even when indoor mask-wearing is lifted. Upon new wave of the spread, we may have to go back to mandatory wearing as in the painful past.
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