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More firms ease virus rules as vaccination speeds up

Office workers commute to work early Wednesday morning, in Jongno, Seoul. (Yonhap)
Office workers commute to work early Wednesday morning, in Jongno, Seoul. (Yonhap)

South Korean companies are ending strict pandemic-era rules and restrictions, resuming overseas trips and in-person meetings, as offices prepare to gradually shift to the “living with COVID-19” phase set to start next month.

The move is also in line with rising vaccination rates across the country. 

According to data from the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency, 78.7 percent of the population had completed at least a first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, while 64.6 percent had received a second dose, as of Sunday.

One of the first companies to make a move was Samsung Electronics, which employs more than 110,000 local workers. Samsung has, since early this month, eased restrictions placed on overseas trips, in-person meetings and training sessions.

Industry sources said Sunday that an easing mood has now spread to other major companies, such as chipmaker SK hynix and carmaker Hyundai Motor.

All employees of SK hynix who are fully vaccinated are to be allowed to go on business trips abroad without prior approval from the executive level. All employees, regardless of vaccination status, will be allowed to attend in-person meetings of fewer than 10 people.

Hyundai Motor began readjusting virus restrictions early this month. The carmaker has allowed fully vaccinated staff to hold in-person training sessions and meetings. Outside visitors can be granted access to Hyundai offices if they are fully vaccinated. In-house cafeterias will open in stages, the company said.

“We are gradually easing antivirus restrictions following the government’s ‘Life With Coronavirus’ scheme and a rising vaccination rate among our employees. We will review and change internal antivirus measures in accordance with the government rules soon,” a Hyundai Motor official was quoted as saying in a local media report.

There are some companies, like key affiliates of LG, Posco, Lotte and Shinsegae Group, that are taking a wait-and-see approach for a while, before it decides to ease internal antivirus measures.

“We are following government guidelines to prioritize the health and safety of our employees. Other details in our antivirus measures such as remote working guidelines and participant cap for in-person meetings, will be gradually eased depending on the COVID-19 situation,” an LG Group official was quoted saying by local media reports.

Earlier this month, Samsung Electronics began enforcing new rules on foreign trips and in-person meetings. Some restrictions, including a ban on work dinners and drinks, will remain intact. Remote work guidelines remain unchanged to keep the crowd level at offices low.

By Kang Jae-eun (kang.jaeeun@heraldcorp.com)
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