January 31, 2023 13:30
The indoor mask mandate was partially lifted in Korea on Monday, but Koreans will have to wear masks on public transportation and other designated places till at least May.
While most countries lifted the mask mandate months ago, health authorities here said Koreans will have to wait until the country's crisis alert level for COVID drops as low as the seasonal flu.
Authorities are also reluctant to lift the current seven-day self-quarantine rule for infected patients. "The rules will be eased one day," said Chung Ki-seok, a government adviser on infectious diseases. "But there's a risk that the virus could spread out of control when the quarantine is fully lifted at once." In reality the requirement is already widely ignored.
Chung predicted that COVID could become endemic by the end of this year. But he urged people over 60 to get a new COVID vaccine because the virus is still more dangerous for the elderly than the flu, with three out of every 1,000 elderly patients dying.
Meanwhile, the World Health Organization on Monday decided to keep COVID classified as a "public health emergency of international concern." The classification has been in place since January 2020.
It said the extension came from "the ongoing risk posed by COVID-19, with a still high number of deaths compared to other respiratory infectious diseases, the insufficient vaccine uptake in low- and middle-income countries, as well as in the highest-risk groups globally, and the uncertainty associated with emerging variants."
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