March 24, 2023

New infections fall below 40,000; mask mandate set to be lifted

SEOUL– South Korea’s new COVID-19 cases fell below 40,000 on Sunday, marking a steady decline from early last month, with the country set to lift the outdoor mask mandate in a major step toward return to normalcy.

The country reported 37,771 new COVID-19 infections, including 30 from overseas, bringing the total caseload to 17,275,649, according to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA).

Sunday’s tally is a marked drop from the previous day’s 43,286 and 50,568 reported Friday. In terms of Sunday figures only, the latest tally is the lowest in 12 weeks.

As of 9 p.m., the country had added 19,708 new COVID-19 cases, down 14,836 from the same time the previous day, according to health authorities.

Daily cases are counted until midnight and announced the following morning.

The daily counts have been on a steady decline since mid-March, when the number had topped 600,000 at one point before coming down to five-digits in about a month.

The modest fall in virus cases comes as South Korea is set to scrap the outdoor mask mandate, starting Monday, except for large gatherings of 50 or more, as it begins to take steps toward the return to normalcy.

The government expects the decision to lift the outdoor mask rule to have no major impact on its quarantine drive as the infection rate of the virus in indoor facilities is 18.7 times higher than the rate outdoors.

The country added 81 COVID-19 deaths, with the total at 22,875, the KDCA said. The fatality rate stood at 0.13 percent.

The number of critically ill patients came to 493, up from 490 the previous day.

As of midnight Saturday, 44.54 million people, or 86.8 percent of the population, had been vaccinated with the first two shots, and 33.12 million people had received the first booster shots, representing 64.5 percent.

The number of those that got the second booster shots came to 2.11 million, the KDCA said.

Source: Yonhap News Agency