(ATTN: ADDS remarks, details from para 6)
By Kim Deok-hyun
SEOUL, Dec. 9 (Yonhap) -- Prime Minister Han Duck-soo said Friday that the government will set criteria within this month on determining whether to lift the indoor mask mandate.
"The specific criteria for judgment will be finalized through a meeting of the Central Disaster and Safety Countermeasures Headquarters this month after an open debate and discussion by the advisory committee," Han told a response meeting.
The government will advise or ask people to voluntarily wear face masks indoors if COVID-19 containment situations meet the specific standards, including the number of daily infections and deaths, Han said.
"It is an unchanging principle to put people's lives and safety as the top priority of the anti-epidemic policy," Han said.
South Korea has scrapped most pandemic-related restrictions since May, but the mask mandate for indoor spaces and public transit remains in place.
Han said the end of the indoor mask mandate could come earlier than anticipated if more people get updated COVID-19 vaccines.
The government has called for people over 60 to get the updated booster, and about 24 percent of them have received the shots so far, Han said.
Starting next week, people aged 12 and older will be eligible for the updated shots, Han said.
With regard to the prolonged strike by cargo truckers that has disrupted supply chains, Han reaffirmed the government's hard-line stance.
"No preconditions are acceptable in withdrawing the refusal of transportation, which takes the national economy and people's livelihoods hostage in the face of severe internal and external conditions," Han said.
As the striking truckers voted to decide whether to end their strike, Han called on them to "return to work as soon as possible to normalize the national economy and minimize public inconvenience."