SEOUL – South Korea lifted almost all of its COVID-19 precautions on Monday in a major step towards a return to normal life as the Omicron variant recedes and daily infections retreated to a more than two-month low of fewer than 50,000.
A midnight curfew on restaurants and other businesses was scrapped, along with a cap of 10 people allowed to gather. From next week, people will be allowed to eat snacks in cinemas and other indoor public facilities such as stadiums.
People are still required to wear masks, however, with the government planning to review whether to lift a rule for masks outdoors in two weeks.
The relaxation of the rules come as the number of coronavirus cases in South Korea fell to 47,743 on Monday, the lowest since Feb. 9, after hovering at more than 620,000 a day in mid-March.
Some rules, however, remain including mandatory quarantine for unvaccinated inbound travelers and negative PCR tests for the fully vaccinated.
South Korea has largely managed to limit deaths and critical cases through widespread vaccination, and it has scaled back the aggressive tracing and containment efforts that made it a mitigation success story from most of the first two years of the pandemic.
Nearly 87% of the 52 million population are fully vaccinated, with 64% having also had a booster, according to Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency data.
In line with the easing of the rules, companies are gradually returning to their offices.
Most staff at giant steelmaker POSCO have returned to their offices this month, becoming one of the first major firms to bring people back.
LG Electronics said it had reduced the proportion of employees working from home to 30% from 50% from Monday, while scrapping a limit on the number of people allowed in meetings.
Samsung Electronics said it had yet to implement its back-to-office plan and the public sector is also awaiting new government guidelines.
The Bank of Korea, which has 30% of its head office staff working from home, is considering easing its guidelines, officials said.
The government had recommended workplaces with 300 or more employees adopt flexible working hours and have 10% of staff work from home. – Reuters