South Korea will lift the mask mandate for public transportation from Monday, ending the COVID-19 preventative measure imposed since 2020, the government announced Wednesday.
"The government will lift the mask mandate starting on March 20 additionally on public transportation, including the bus and subway," Vice Interior Minister Han Chang-seob said during a government COVID-19 response meeting.
The types of public transportation where people are no longer required to wear masks include public buses, school buses, the subway, KTX bullet trains, taxis and airplanes.
Mandatory mask rules have been in place for public transportation since early 2020, though the current mandate was introduced in October that year.
The rule mandating face masks on mass transit systems is one of the last-remaining COVID-19 restrictions in the country. The outdoor mask mandate was lifted in May last year, followed by the indoor mask mandate ending in January.
The decision came as Korea's new COVID-19 cases continue a downward trend. Korea reported 11,899 new COVID-19 cases Wednesday, down some 900 from the same day the previous week.
"Since the adjustment of mask-wearing requirements on Jan. 30, the virus situation has been in stable condition, registering a 38 percent fall in the average daily virus infections and a 55 percent fall in new seriously ill patients," Han said.
"However, the government strongly recommend wearing masks for those people with symptoms or high-risk groups during the rush hour."
Wearing masks in pharmacies at open public spaces such as inside train stations and discount stores will also be lifted. The mandate will remain for people at medical institutions, general pharmacies and other vulnerable facilities.
With the near-complete lifting of the mask mandate, the seven-day isolation mandate for COVID-19 patients remains the country's last significant COVID-19 restriction. Ending the isolation requirement is also under discussion, with a final decision expected to be made this month.
The decision was made amid growing number of countries lifting the mask mandate at public sphere.
As of Feb. 25, countries including Italy, Austria, Germany, Portugal, Poland, Belgium, Spain, New Zealand, and Chile, had no mask mandate on mass transit but at medical institutions. But others including Greece, Malaysia, Taiwan, the Philippines, Australia, and Egypt still require masks on public transportation.
Masks are no longer required in any places in the US, UK, France, the Netherlands, Denmark or Singapore.