SEOUL, July 1 (Korea Bizwire) — Starting Thursday, anyone who has received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine more than two weeks ago is allowed to go maskless when outdoors.
The mask exemption for those who are partially or fully vaccinated took effect across the country at the beginning of July, as part of the government’s incentives aimed at boosting the nation’s vaccination rate.
The exemption came nearly one year after mask wearing became mandatory here on Aug. 23 last year. The exemption does not apply to outdoor rallies, concert halls, sports stadiums, amusement parks and other outdoor facilities where many people gather.
Some vaccinated people were spotted walking around without wearing masks in parks and secluded places in Seoul and other major cities nationwide.
But the majority of them still appear reluctant to go maskless in outdoor public spaces, particularly due to a recent spike in new COVID-19 cases.
South Korea’s daily new virus cases remained in the 700s for the second day Thursday, with the daily caseload soaring to an over two-month high of 794 the previous day.
About 15.3 million people, or 29.9 percent of the country’s population, have received at least one vaccine dose as of Thursday.
A 74-year-old man surnamed Lee, who got a shot of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine in the central city of Cheongju in early June, said he feels like he is slowly returning to normal life, as he is allowed to take off his mask when outdoors.
“I used to feel uncomfortable when I had to take off my mask to drink coffee in a park. But now I don’t have to feel that way anymore,” Lee said with his mask pulled down to his neck at Cheongju Central Park.
“I’m happy to think that everyday life appears to be gradually returning to normal,” he said.
But most vaccinated people still seem reluctant to ditch their masks in public places, as the quarantine authorities have warned against a sudden loss of awareness against the coronavirus.
“It’s still better to wear masks even when outdoors. People are recommended to take off their masks only in sparsely populated areas when keeping a distance of two meters or more is possible,” said an official in the central city of Daejeon.
A 35-year-old Daejeon citizen surnamed Oh, who received the Janssen vaccine last month, said he feels the urge to completely take off his mask and walk freely on streets but is reluctant to act on his instinct.
“I’m used to wearing a mask for longer than a year. It’s not easy to suddenly take off my mask, so I sometimes just wear it over my chin,” Oh said.
Oh said he will soon leave on a seven-day trip to Phuket, Thailand, together with three friends who have also been vaccinated.
Another Cheongju resident surnamed Kim, 63, who was recently given a Pfizer shot, said he still feels safer when wearing a mask in public, particularly due to the rapid spread of coronavirus variants.
In the greater Seoul area hit by a number of cluster infections, it was difficult to find people without masks on, not only in downtown areas but also in residential areas and quiet parks.