Interior Minister Jeon Hae-cheol speaks during a COVID-19 response meeting, Wednesday. (Yonhap)
The South Korean government will decide in early May whether the outdoor mask mandate will be lifted, Interior Minister Jeon Hae-cheol said during a COVID-19 response meeting Wednesday.
Jeon noted that the mask mandate will stay in place for the moment as wearing face masks is still important for preventing the spread of infection at the current stage of the pandemic.
Regarding the government’s planned downgrade of the COVID-19 infectious disease level, Jeon said that the government will make its final decision by end-May, after discussing with the local governments and health authorities.
The government will first implement its four-week transition period before finally downgrading the COVID-19 infectious level. Once downgraded, patients will be able to receive treatment for COVID at local clinics and hospitals, and the medical system can be normalized for general operations.
The government is optimistic that it can start its phased return to normal as COVID-19 infections continue to decrease, Jeon said.
The daily average number of COVID-19 cases last week dropped 40 percent to around 110,000, compared to the previous week’s 195,000, he said.
He also expressed hope that the number of COVID-19 cases would go down further in the following weeks, adding that the basic COVID-19 reproduction number reached 0.78 last week, remaining under 1 for the third consecutive week.
The government will continue to monitor how new subvariants of omicron -- including XL, XE and XM -- will develop in the future, he added.
As part of the recent removal of social distancing rules, the government will no longer require organizers to get permission to hold large-scale events of 300 people or more, Jeon added.
Starting from Monday, all outdoor events are able to host more than 299 attendees provided that they inform the local government in advance, according to the minister. Previously, organizers had to seek permission from the government and undergo a review process if they wanted to host 300 people or more.
Meanwhile, South Korea’s daily COVID-19 infections reached 111,319 during the 24 hours of Tuesday, remaining under 120,000 for the fifth straight day.
The number of COVID-19 deaths reported during the same period reached 166, with the death toll from COVID-19 reaching 21,520.
The number of critically ill patients reached 808, down 26 from a day prior, and stayed under 900 for the fourth consecutive day.
By Shim Woo-hyun (email@example.com