March 3, 2023
SEOUL – After three years of indoor mask mandates, students in Korea returned to classrooms without masks on Thursday for the new semester.
The full-scale reopening of schools comes as part of the government’s decision to end the 27-monthslong mandate in January, allowing schools from elementary to secondary levels to be mask-free.
With the rules lifted, the temperature check routine before entering classrooms and cafeterias and the installation of plastic dividers at canteens to stop the virus spread are no longer in place. Students and faculty members also do not have to upload their daily health status on a self-diagnosis application.
The mobile application will only be recommended for students showing symptoms like fever or cough, who tested positive for a rapid antigen test or are waiting for PCR test results after a family member tested positive for the virus.
Ventilation in classrooms, disinfection of facilities at least once a day, setting up a temporary observation room for students with symptoms and conducting a rapid antigen test of students who were in the same class with a confirmed peer still remain.
Students seemed worried about the new rules, but excited about returning to normalcy.
“I plan to wear a mask for the time being because you never know where and how you’ll get the virus at school. But it’s good to hear that masks are no longer mandatory,” Namgung Yu-jeong, a middle school first grader, told The Korea Herald.
Ha Yu-rim, a senior high school student, said she feels insecure about letting go of her mask, referring to it as a “tool that acted as her safety blanket.”
“I feel weird and a little anxious about going maskless because wearing a mask made me feel secure from others. I need time to get used to this,” Ha said.
“But on a brighter note, I’ll be able to talk to my friends without masks and finally see their faces. Also, I’ll be able to bid farewell to my last year of high school without wearing a mask,” she added.
Meanwhile, as students and schools are bracing for the transition, the Education Ministry also plans to run a two-week preparation period until March 16 to examine and help schools adapt to the relaxed guidelines. The ministry added that it would hand out masks and hand sanitizers, as well as have health personnel available to reduce the quarantine burden for schools.