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South Korea to remove most virus restrictions

SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA (AP) – South Korea will remove most pandemic restrictions as it slowly wiggles out of an Omicron outbreak officials said is stabilising.

People will still be required to wear masks indoors, but authorities could remove an outdoor mask mandate if the coronavirus further slows over the next two weeks, Health Minister Kwon Deok-cheol said in a government briefing yesterday.

Starting next week, authorities will remove a 10-person limit on private social gatherings and lift a midnight curfew at restaurants, coffee shops and other indoor businesses. Officials will also remove a ban on large political rallies and other events involving 300 or more people.

People will be allowed to eat inside movie theatres, religious facilities, bus terminals and train stations starting on April 25.

The new measures were announced as the country reported 125,846 new cases of the coronavirus, continuing a weekslong downward trend after infections peaked in mid-March.

The country’s one-day record was 621,187 on March 17.

While health workers reported 264 virus-related deaths in the latest 24 hours, over half of the country’s 2,800 COVID-19 intensive care units remained available.

Omicron forced South Korea to abandon a stringent COVID-19 response based on mass laboratory tests, aggressive contact tracing and quarantines to focus limited medical resources on high-risk groups.

Starting in late May, officials will remove a mandatory seven-day quarantine period for COVID-19 patients and allow them to receive treatment at hospitals and local clinics just like other illnesses.

People cross the Cheonggye Stream in Seoul, South Korea. PHOTO: AP