Indoor mask mandate eased but restrictions in some places still remain

2023.01.30 10:57:02 | 2023.02.28 14:36:02

An indoor mask mandate will remain for public transportation, hospitals and certain other facilities. [Photo by Lee Seung-hwan]이미지 확대

An indoor mask mandate will remain for public transportation, hospitals and certain other facilities. [Photo by Lee Seung-hwan]



Starting Monday, wearing face masks is no longer obligatory across most public spaces in Korea, said the government on Sunday. An indoor mask mandate will remain, however, for public transportation, hospitals and certain other facilities.

Schools and other educational services, senior centers, gyms and swimming pools can now choose whether or not to require visitors and users to wear a mask indoors, as some facilities will want to keep the indoor mask requirement out of lingering concern of potential infection waves and subsequent damage to their business.

The previous requirement for masks to be worn in all indoor public places has now been changed to a recommendation, after 658 days since it was first put in place on April 12, 2021. A mask mandate was first introduced in October 2020 as part of Covid measures.

Under the updated government guidance for masks, visitors no longer need to wear masks in big box stores, department stores or shopping malls, but they are required to wear one in pharmacies located within big box stores, for example.

The indoor mask mandate has not been lifted for hospitals or for other facilities vulnerable to infections, leaving the mandate in place at gyms and locker rooms within such spaces. However, no mask is required in a single occupant hospital room or in other “private space” within a hospital or a nursing facility, and going maskless there will not be subject to an administrative fine.

As for public transportation, anyone who does not wear a mask on board a bus or train will face an administrative fine of up to 100,000 won ($8.13). Public transportation, under the guidance, includes buses, trains, subways, urban railways, ferries, charter buses, shuttles, taxies and airplanes. Wearing a mask is not mandated, though, at bus stops or on platforms of those public transportation systems, or at the terminal or in the airport terminals.

Children and adolescences under the age of 14 years are also exempted from administrative fines. [Photo by Yonhap]이미지 확대

Children and adolescences under the age of 14 years are also exempted from administrative fines. [Photo by Yonhap]



Babies and children under the age of 24 months will not be subject to an administrative fine for not wearing a mask. This applies equally to disabled or mobility challenged people who have difficulty using a mask, or individuals who are medically diagnosed to not wear a mask due to respiratory issues. Children and adolescences under the age of 14 years are also exempted from administrative fines, according to the Act on the Regulation of Violations of Public Order.

The updated guidance highly recommends wearing a mask for people who have a cough, a runny nose, a fever or some other Covid-like symptoms, and for people who have come into contact with Covid-positive individuals. This will apply at schools and other educational services.

Other cases where wearing a mask is now only highly recommended, include people at high risk or people who have been in contact with high-risk people, people who have contacted a COVID-positive person within the past two weeks, and in spaces with a closed indoor environment with poor ventilation and spaces where people tend to conduct high droplet-producing activities.

Even though the indoor mask mandate has been lifted at schools and at other educational services as of Monday, many facilities are choosing to keep the mask requirement, including at institutional study schools, out of concern for potential damage to their business operations following a future wave of infection. They plan to decide whether or not to drop their mask mandate after carefully monitoring the situation.

Language schools with young students are also cautious about taking off their masks indoors. “We will keep the indoor mask as ‘required’ for now, for a safer environment for our students, but we will look forward to being back to normal soon as we monitor measures at kindergartens and schools,” one language school in Seoul said.

Another language school has also assured its patrons that it will keep its indoor mask requirement for all teachers and staff. As indoor masks are required in shuttle buses for kindergartens and daycares, young children will likely have to keep their masks on, even if other educational services leave the mask choice as a voluntary measure.

By Kim Si-gyun, Han Sang-heon and Chang Iou-chung

[ⓒ Pulse by Maeil Business Newspaper & mk.co.kr, All rights reserved]