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New COVID-19 cases dip to around 20,000; outdoor mask mandate lifted

09:56 May 02, 2022

SEOUL, May 2 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's new COVID-19 cases fell to around 20,000 on Monday, marking the lowest level in nearly three months, as the country lifted the outdoor mask mandate in a major step toward regaining normalcy.

The country reported 20,084 new COVID-19 infections, including 26 from overseas, bringing the total caseload to 17,295,733, the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) said.

Monday's tally is a marked drop from the previous day's 37,771, and it is the first time since early February that the daily count came to the 20,000s.

The country added 83 COVID-19 deaths Monday, bringing the total to 22,958, the KDCA said. The fatality rate stood at 0.13 percent.

The number of critically ill patients came to 461, down 32 from the previous day's 493, according to the health authorities.

A COVID-19 testing station in Seoul is shut down on May 1, 2022, as virus cases are on the decline amid the omicron slowdown. (Yonhap)

In line with the recent downward trend, the government scrapped the outdoor mask mandate starting Monday, except for large gatherings of 50 or more.

The restriction had been in place since October 2020, and those violating the rule could have faced fines.

But the relaxation decision came as the peak of the omicron-driven virus wave passed and the country has maintained a stable medical response system, according to officials.

Mask wearing, however, is still recommended when it is difficult for people to keep a 1-meter distance from each other at gatherings and in circumstances where lots of droplets of saliva could be expelled, such as shouting and singing.

It is also highly advised for those who have suspected COVID-19 symptoms and who are at high risk of infections.

The country eased most of the strict social distancing restrictions in mid-April, including private gathering limits and business hour curfews.

As of midnight Sunday, 44.55 million people, or 86.8 percent of the population, had been vaccinated with the first two shots, and 33.13 million people had received the first booster shots, representing 64.5 percent.

The number of those that got the second booster shots came to 2.12 million, which accounted for 4.1 percent of the country's total population, the KDCA said.

The Seoul Grand Park in the city of Gwacheon, just south of Seoul, is crowded with visitors on May 1, 2022. (Yonhap)

graceoh@yna.co.kr
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