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Asia Minute: South Korea becomes the latest country to shift the rules on wearing masks

coronavirus covid Outbreak South Korea Daily Life
Lee Jin-man/AP
Visitors wearing face masks to help curb the spread of the coronavirus visit at the International Quarantine Expo in Goyang, South Korea, Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2021. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)

Are you still wearing a mask? Many people around the islands are still wearing masks in certain circumstances, even though in most cases it’s no longer required. There’s another location in the Pacific that’s shifting mask rules starting Monday.

In South Korea, the official mask mandate ends Monday for most outdoor activities.

They’ll still be required in sports stadiums and at other outside events with 50 or more people.

But Prime Minister Kim Boo-kyum said Friday, “We couldn’t ignore the inconvenience people experience from wearing a mask even when they walk alone outside or go on a picnic with their family.”

New cases of COVID-19 have been dropping across South Korea since their peak of more than 620,000 a day in mid-March.

Daily cases are now running at less than 10% of that pace — and the number of deaths and those critically ill with the virus have also declined.

Last week, South Korea did away with most of its social distancing rules. There are no longer any limits on the number of people who can gather, no more curfews, and no limits on hours for businesses.

As is the case in some other parts of the world, there’s a political side to mask-wearing.

South Korea’s new president takes office a week from Tuesday — and his transition team says it was “premature” to end the mask mandate.

Previously, incoming officials said the new administration would reach a decision on mask rules by the end of May.

Bill Dorman has been the news director at Hawaiʻi Public Radio since 2011.
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