Korea has decided to maintain its rules for wearing indoor masks, the prime minister said Friday.
“Wearing masks indoors, along with hand washing and periodic ventilation, is still the best way to prevent Covid-19 infection,” Prime Minister Han Duck-soo said during a government response meeting.
Han said a decision whether to remove indoor masks requires more data on the virus toll and the estimated effect.
He stressed that the government has to also discuss how to bring back the mask mandate if the infection siutation worsens.
With the indoor mask rules intact, Korea remains the only country among Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) members that keeps the mandatory masks in all indoor sites.
On the same day, the government announced the end of the outdoor face mask mandate starting next Monday.
“We are clearly overcoming the recent resurge of the Covid-19 virus,” Han said. “Considering the relatively low risk of infection outdoors, the duty to wear masks outdoor will be completely lifted from next Monday.”
Although outdoor masks are no longer mandatory, the government still recommends high-risk groups -- elderly, chronic respiratory disease patients, and unvaccinated person -- and those having suspected symptoms of Covid-19 to wear masks outdoors.
“The government still recommends people to wear masks outdoor if there are in a situation where people are very dense packed making it difficult to keep a distance due to close proximity,” Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) Commissioner Peck Kyong-ran said.
Health officials also emphasized the importance of “coughing etiquette” -- covering the mouth and nose with a tissue or a sleeve when coughing or sneezing outdoors -- and washing hands after outdoor activities .
On Friday, the KDCA confirmed 29,108 new Covid-19 infections, including 303 from overseas, bringing the total caseload to 24,565,021.
The daily figure is the lowest of all Friday tallies since July 8, when cases dropped to 19,295.
The country reported 68 deaths, putting the death toll at 28,077, the KDCA said. The fatality rate stood at 0.11 percent. The number of critically ill patients remained high at 399, down 29 from the previous day.
Health authorities believe the recent resurgence seems to have peaked out for a steady decline, with a faster decrease in the number of new cases and deaths compared to the previous viral wave.
According to the KDCA, about 44.67 million among 52 million Koreans have been fully vaccinated. In addition, about 33.59 million people had received their first booster shots, and 7.39 million had their second booster shots.