Incoming gov’t to determine whether to lift outdoor mask mandate in late May

April 27, 2022

 The incoming government of President-elect Yoon Suk-yeol will determine whether to lift an outdoor mask mandate in late May, the transition team chief said Wednesday.

Ahn Cheol-soo said the decision will depend on the “situation” in late May, noting that South Korea is currently reporting a large number of COVID-19 cases compared with other countries.

Transition team Chairman Ahn Cheol-soo gives a press briefing on the team's COVID-19 response at its headquarters in Seoul on April 27, 2022. (Pool photo) (Yonhap)

Transition team Chairman Ahn Cheol-soo gives a press briefing on the team’s COVID-19 response at its headquarters in Seoul on April 27, 2022. (Pool photo) (Yonhap)

“I think it might be possible if they come down to the level at which advanced countries lifted their outdoor mask mandates,” Ahn said during a press briefing.

“If possible, we will allow masks to be taken off outdoors while making it mandatory to wear masks when entering a building,” he said, adding the indoor mask mandate will likely continue for some time.

The exact criteria for when masks can be removed will have to be determined by the health authorities under the new government, Ahn said.

South Korea recently lifted all COVID-19 social distancing restrictions, except the mask mandate, as the pandemic entered a more manageable stage.

COVID-19 infections have now dipped to under 100,000 cases daily after peaking at over 620,000 in mid-March amid a surge driven by the highly transmissible omicron variant.

Ahn said the transition team came up with a “100-day COVID-19 emergency response roadmap” for the first months of the new administration.

The roadmap consists of four pillars: pursuing a science-based antivirus policy, establishing a sustainable infectious disease response system, providing protection to high-risk and vulnerable populations and securing vaccines and treatments.

Under the four pillars, the incoming government will pursue a total of 34 tasks over varying time frames.

Within 30 days of its launch, the new administration plans to carry out antibody testing across the country and come up with measures to secure hospital beds and staff and protect schools and kindergartens ahead of a likely COVID-19 resurgence in the fall and winter.

Within 50 days, it plans to increase the responsibility of local clinics and hospitals in responding to COVID-19 and set up a new presidential advisory body for infectious diseases.

Within 100 days, it aims to revise social distancing criteria.

“Rather than shutting down all cafes or all gyms, we’ll use scientific measures based on the degree of crowdedness, closeness and how enclosed a space is,” Ahn said, citing factors such as a room’s capacity, the distance between people or tables and ventilation systems.

“We won’t adopt the previous system of ordering an assembly ban on an entire business sector,” Ahn said.