December 23, 2022 09:40
Masks will remain mandatory in most indoor places until after the lunar New Year at the end of January.
In a meeting with ruling People Power Party leaders on Thursday, government officials said the new policy will also depend on whether at least two out of three COVID indices -- new infections, seriously ill patients and deaths -- drop below a certain level.
The likeliest date will be after the lunar New Year holiday, when millions flock to their ancestral hometowns. The ruling party also recommended cutting the COVID isolation period from the current seven days to three.
Masks are to remain mandatory in nursing homes, hospitals, pharmacies and other welfare facilities but become optional everywhere else.
But the new policy could be delayed if new Omicron variants spread and more people become critically ill because the uptake for vaccine boosters remains low at a mere 14.8 percent, way below government expectations.
The outdoor mask mandate was lifted completely in September.
"The most important prerequisite is whether the medical system can withstand the challenge once the indoor mask mandate is lifted," said Prof. Jung Jae-hun of Gachon University's Gil Medical Center.
"This has been satisfied to some extent when we experienced a surge of Omicron infections, so I think it's okay to lift the indoor mask mandate unless infections skyrocket."
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