Anchor: The government took another step toward normality on Monday by lifting the mask mandate for public transit. However, many people in the country were seen wearing masks amid high fine dust levels nationwide during rush hour.
Choi You Sun reports.
Report: Under foggy skies, many of the passengers getting on and off city buses were wearing masks during the morning commute.
People may have decided to continue wearing them, despite the lifting of the mask mandate on public transit as of Monday, due largely to high levels of fine dust blanketing most parts of the country.
[Sound bite: Seol Yun-hwan, Seoul Seodaemun District Resident (Korean-English)]
"I think there were 13 to 14 passengers on the bus. Only one or two people were not wearing masks. I'm wearing one because the fine dust level is expected to remain high today and I still don't feel comfortable taking it off. The situation may be different three or four months from now. I think it would be more convenient not having to wear a mask on a plane, especially since we have to eat during a long journey. But for now, I think it would be better to keep wearing one during rush hour."
For the first time in some 29 months, no fines will be imposed on people for not wearing masks on buses, subways, trains, taxis, planes and passenger ships.
The latest change follows an earlier phase introduced in late January, when the indoor mask mandate was lifted for most venues, except for high-risk facilities, such as hospitals, pharmacies and on public transportation.
The mandate no longer applies to pharmacies located inside large-scale facilities such as discount chains or train stations.
[Sound bite: Ko Kyeong-ah, Seoul Seongbuk District Resident (Korean-English)]
"Not being required to wear masks indoors felt like we have returned to the pre-COVID era. It felt awkward having to wear a mask only on public transit but that has also been lifted. By not wearing a mask when it's less crowded, I would feel a greater sense of freedom and we would be taking another step towards normalization."
Still, high-risk groups, including seniors, those using public transit during rush hour, and people working at pharmacies are strongly advised to continue wearing masks on a voluntary basis.
Other pandemic policies, such as the mandatory seven-day quarantine for patients, will be considered for adjustment after the World Health Organization decides whether to lift its declaration of a Public Health Emergency of International Concern for COVID-19. The decision could come as early as next month.
Three-thousand-930 COVID-19 infections were reported throughout Sunday, hitting a nine-month low.
Choi You Sun, KBS World Radio News.