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People wait for a public bus outside Camp Humphreys, South Korea, March 16, 2020.
People wait for a public bus outside Camp Humphreys, South Korea, March 16, 2020. (Matthew Keeler/Stars and Stripes)

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SEOUL, South Korea — People using public transportation in South Korea must wear face masks as part of new governmental measures to prevent the further spread of the coronavirus.

South Korea has eased many restrictions as the number of coronavirus cases declined, but health authorities remain worried about cluster outbreaks after more than 200 infections were linked to nightclubs and bars in recent weeks.

All passengers and drivers on buses, taxis and subways were required to wear masks beginning Tuesday, while air travelers on domestic and international routes will have to wear them starting Wednesday, according to the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport.

The decision came as officials expressed concern that fewer people are wearing masks amid warmer temperatures that make them uncomfortable.

Passengers without face masks will not be allowed to board, although they won’t be penalized for not following the rule, South Korean media reported. Drivers and train staff also will be temporarily exempted from the normal punishment for refusing passengers.

Masks are available for purchase at convenience stores and vending machines if needed.

Many cities, including Seoul and Daegu, already have mandated face masks on a more limited basis. Seoul, for example, began requiring them on subways during rush hours while adding train cars and buses to reduce passenger congestion earlier this month.

South Korea reported 19 new cases on Tuesday for a total of 11,225, with 269 deaths, since the virus first appeared in China late last year.

news@stripes.com

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