S.Korea to lift most COVID curbs next week as Omicron wanes

REUTERS/Heo Ran/File Photo
FILE PHOTO: Women wearing masks walk in a shopping district amid the COVID-19 pandemic in Seoul, South Korea, March 16, 2022.

SEOUL (Reuters) – South Korea said on Friday it will drop most COVID-19 pandemic-related restrictions next week including a midnight curfew on eateries as the Omicron surge in cases shows signs of waning, although people will still have to wear masks.

From April 18, the midnight curfew on restaurants and other businesses will be scrapped, along with the cap on private gatherings which was set at 10, Prime Minister Kim Boo-kyum told a coronavirus response meeting.

The government will also allow rallies and other events with 300 or more people, while removing a 70% cap on capacity at religious facilities.

“Wearing masks is still a very important means to protect ourselves,” Kim said. “It is inevitable to maintain the indoor mask mandate for a considerable period of time.”

On wearing masks outdoors, Kim said the government will review whether to lift the existing restriction in two weeks, depending on the virus situation.

As the country seeks a gradual return to normalcy, the government will completely remove the seven-day self-quarantine requirement for COVID patients from late May, according to Health Minister Kwon Deok-cheol.

The number of coronavirus cases in the country appears to have passed its peak after hovering over 620,000 a day in mid-March, with the daily infections falling to below 130,000 on Friday.

South Korea has largely managed to limit deaths and critical cases through widespread vaccinations, and scaled back its once-aggressive tracing and containment efforts.

Nearly 87% of the country’s 52 million population are fully vaccinated, with 64% having also received booster shots, according to Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) data.

On Wednesday, the government announced its plan to expand the rollout of second COVID-19 booster shot for people over 60.