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(LEAD) S. Korea to lift mask mandate for most indoor spaces Jan. 30

09:56 January 20, 2023

(ATTN: ADDS details throughout, photo; RECASTS lead para)

SEOUL, Jan. 20 (Yonhap) -- Prime Minister Han Duck-soo said Friday that South Korea plans to lift the mask mandate for most indoor spaces from Jan. 30, dropping its last remaining pandemic restriction as the daily caseload continues to decline.

The policy will, however, remain in place at hospitals, pharmacies and public transportation.

The government said earlier it could scrap the indoor mask mandate in phases if at least two of four criteria are met. Those criteria are a downward trend in new infections, a drop in critically ill cases and deaths, strong medical response capabilities and a high vaccination rate among high-risk groups.

Prime Minister Han Duck-soo presides over a government virus response meeting at the government complex in Seoul on Jan. 20, 2023. (Yonhap)

"The government will discuss and confirm the plan to ease the indoor mask mandate starting Jan. 30, with the exception of some facilities," Han said during the government virus response meeting.

He explained three of the four criteria, excluding high vaccination rate among high-risk groups, have been met and that external risk factors were controllable.

The government set the date for the policy change given that in-person meetings will increase during the Lunar New Year holiday, which will last through Tuesday, Han said.

The prime minister urged local authorities to stay vigilant against a temporary spike in infections following the holiday and the change in indoor mask policy.

He also called on the elderly to get vaccinated.

"The importance of vaccination has grown with the easing of the mask mandate," Han said. "I strongly advise high-risk people aged 60 or older and the elderly residing in high-risk facilities to get vaccinated as soon as possible."

Iconic S.Korean actress Yoon Jeong-hee dies in Paris/Lifting indoor mask mandate on Jan.30

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A man walks past a sign asking visitors to wear masks at an indoor shopping mall in Seoul on Jan. 18, 2023. (Yonhap)

mlee@yna.co.kr
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