December 19, 2022
SEOUL – South Korea is likely to lift its indoor mandate in two stages, starting with schools and public offices in mid-January, according to multiple health authorities on Sunday. Under the plan, however, the mandatory indoor mask rule will continue to be applied at highly dense spaces such as public transportation and medical institutions including sanatoriums until the government fully lifts the mandate. The two-stage plan is set to be announced at a meeting of the Central Disaster and Safety Countermeasures Headquarters scheduled for Friday, according to reports.
The government, however, is still in discussion about exactly when to implement the stage one plan, and whether to include other public spaces frequently visited by the elderly, such as supermarkets along with schools and public offices.
It is expected that the first stage of the indoor mask release could be as early as Jan. 21, when the Lunar New Year holiday begins.
“Expert discussion will be held before we finalize the mask release, but it is desirable to adjust them before the Lunar New Year holiday as much as possible,” a government official said. The kickoff of the stage one plan, however, could be delayed as the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases is on the rise.
The number of confirmed cases announced on Sunday — tallied on Saturday — recorded 58,862, making a total to 28,188,293.
As the number of diagnostic tests itself decreased, the number of confirmed cases was 8,068 less than 66,930 on the previous day, but showed a clear increase from Sunday a week and two weeks ago.
Also, among the number of confirmed cases on Sundays, this Sunday’s tally of 58,862 cases is the highest in 15 weeks since the 72,112 recorded in September 2022.
Amid a resurgence of the virus, new mutations such as the BN.1 variant are spreading rapidly, according to health authorities. The spread is expected to continue for the time being as the cold weather continues. According to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency, the proportion the of BN.1 variant rose from 3.5 percent in the first week of November to 17.4 percent in the first week of December. In about a month, the infections caused by the BN.1 variant has increased by five times. The proportion of re-infected patients has also increased to 14.69 percent in the fifth week of November, from 10.68 percent in the second week of November.