South Korea will relax its outdoor face mask mandate next week.
Beginning on Monday, people in the country will only be required to don a mask outside when participating in gatherings of more than 50 people or attending sports and cultural events with potentially large crowds.
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Jeong Eun-kyeong, the commissioner of the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency, said health authorities concluded it was safe to relax the mask mandate because the risk of COVID-19 transmissions is much lower outdoors, and other countries didnt see a meaningful increase in infections after easing similar restrictions.
She recommended that people continue to wear masks outdoors if they have symptoms or are in spaces where it is difficult to maintain at least a three-foot distance from others.
The office of President-elect Yoon Suk Yeol raised concern that the move to ease the mask mandate could be premature.
Health officials said Friday that the mask mandate for indoors and public transport will also remain in place.
As COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations continue to trend downward, the country has seen a daily average of around 63,000 new cases over the past week.
About 50,570 were reported in the last 24 hours and fewer than 30% of the countrys 2,800 intensive care units designated for coronavirus patients are occupied.
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Following a March surge linked to the highly transmissible omicron variant, South Korea moved to remove most pandemic regulations.
That includes a 10-person limit on private social gatherings and a midnight curfew at restaurants, coffee shops and bars.
In addition, authorities removed a ban on eating inside movie theaters, religious facilities, bus terminals and train stations on April 25.
While South Korea has lifted restrictions, elsewhere in eastern Asia, surges are threatening communities.
In China, Beijing residents undergoing mass testing are bracing for a lockdown and the majority of Shanghai still remains confined.
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Taiwan is facing its largest outbreak thus far.
Worldwide, the World Health Organization (WHO)reported there have been more than 509 million confirmed cases of COVID-19, including about 6.2 million deaths, reported as of Thursday afternoon.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.