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(LEAD) Most people masked up on 1st day of lifting of mandate rules

11:11 January 30, 2023

(ATTN: UPDATES with more info throughout; ADDS photo)
By Kim Han-joo

SEOUL, Jan. 30 (Yonhap) -- Most people in cafes, offices and schools in South Korea kept wearing their face masks Monday, the first day of the lifting of a mandate for indoor places.

Starting midnight, the government lifted most mandatory indoor mask-wearing rules after more than two years, except at hospitals, pharmacies and on public transportation.

The scrapping of the last remaining pandemic restriction came as the daily caseload has continued to decline. On Monday, the country reported 7,416 new COVID-19 cases, the lowest level in about seven months.

Like most other people, Kim Yoo-jeong is excited the omicron variant is on the decline. Yet, she is not yet ready to let her guard down.

People wearing masks get off at Gwanghwamun Station in central Seoul on Jan. 30, 2023. (Yonhap)

"I am sure that the government decided to revise the rule as it is certain about managing the virus situation. But I still want to wear the mask for the sake of myself," Kim said as she was waiting in line for her latte at a Starbucks store in Seoul's Seocho district.

Just like previous days, most of the people in the store masked up while waiting, except for when they were drinking or eating.

Most commuters also kept their face masks on in indoor areas of public transportation and even outside transportation hubs as they viewed masking as something between a habit and a security.

"It feels a little awkward to take off my mask," Chang Joon-won said as he was coming out of a subway entrance in Seoul's Seocho district to head for work. "It has become like a part of me."

All of the around 30 people waiting for a subway train at Seoul's Dongdaemun Station wore masks.

"It is uncomfortable, but I will continue to wear a mask as the COVID-19 pandemic has not yet ended," Kim Soo-ah said.

Teachers, students and school staff showed mixed emotions about the end of the school mask mandate, as most students opted to wear face coverings while going to school.

"Nothing will immediately change, as kids are used to (wearing masks)," Park Soon-ae, a mother of two daughters, said as she escorted her kids to Daerim Elementary School in Seoul's Dongjak district.

Over a 30-minute period, only one student showed up at school without a mask.

"A notice was given to bring a face mask or even wear a mask when coming to school, as a situation requiring masking may arise," Han Cheol-soo, the school's principal, said.

Students wearing face masks get off a school bus in Seoul on Jan. 30, 2023. (Yonhap)

The end of the mandate also created some confusion.

"I was aware that the mask mandate was lifted today, but I was not aware that wearing a mask inside of an elevator was changed to advisory," said Park Eun-hyeok as he was getting out of an elevator of Dongmyo Station.

Most of the employees at Jeju International Airport on the southern resort island of Jeju were masked up.

"We are recommending a mask, but the decision is left to the discretion of an employee," said an airport official, asking not to be named, adding he is still awaiting the exact guidelines on the rules in places such as pharmacies located inside of an airport.

People wear masks at Jeju International Airport on Jan. 30, 2023. (Yonhap)



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