SEOUL (Reuters) – South Korea will drop a face mask mandate for most indoor public places later this month, Prime Minister Han Duck-soo said on Friday, though coverings will still be required on transport and in medical facilities.

The lifting of the face-covering rules will take effect on Jan. 30, Han said, in the country’s latest step to ease COVID-19 rules as new cases show signs of a slowdown.

“The daily number of new infections is continuing to decline and despite concerns over a spike in cases in China, the situation here is under control without major troubles,” the prime minister said during a COVID response meeting.

South Korea has ordered COVID tests for travellers arriving from China after Beijing abandoned a strict anti-virus regime of mass lockdowns in an abrupt policy U-turn.

Friday’s announcement comes exactly three years after South Korea reported its first outbreak of COVID infection on Jan. 20, 2020 and as it is set to mark the Lunar New Year holidays during which many South Koreans return to their home towns.

The easing of mask rules coupled with the upcoming holidays could result in a temporary surge in new cases, Han warned, urging health authorities to stay vigilant especially for those more vulnerable to infection.

South Korea has scrapped most of its pandemic-related precautions, but it maintains a seven-day isolation rule for those testing positive for COVID.

(Reporting by Soo-hyang Choi; Editing by Jacqueline Wong)

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