South Korea has held a sad record since March.

Measured by population size, the country tops the list of countries with the most new corona infections.

Still, the government lifted almost all social distancing rules on Monday.

For the first time since March 2020, the population is no longer subject to social contact regulations.

Patrick Welter

Correspondent for business and politics in Japan based in Tokyo.

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The most important exception is the limited mask requirement, which will be checked again in two weeks.

The effect of the mask requirement in South Korea is of course already limited.

Like the Japanese or Chinese, South Koreans are used to wearing masks to protect themselves from bad air or colds.

Even in the first few months of the pandemic, they wore masks almost all the time, even though it wasn't compulsory at the time.

With the abolition of the corona rules, the government is reacting to the fact that the peak of the omicron wave has passed and infections have recently fallen significantly.

On March 17, South Korea counted 621,178 new infections a day.

On a seven-day average, that was more than 7,800 infections per 1 million inhabitants - more than two and a half times as many as Germany had recorded at the peak of its omicron wave.

South Korea only reported around 49,500 new infections on Monday.

Statistics distort international comparison

That's still enough for the international top spot.

However, the statistics distort the comparison.

In contrast to other countries, South Korea also tested systematically during the omicron wave and registered new infections.

This contributed to the extremely high official infection numbers.

However, the medical supply situation stabilized.

Nevertheless, the Ministry of Health warned on Monday that the pandemic would not be over even if the corona rules were lifted.

But the country is switching to living with the virus in the interests of the economy and social life.

The government also has the courage to normalize because the vaccination rate is very high.

More than 89 percent of South Koreans aged 18 and over have received a booster shot.

As of this week, seniors can already get the second "booster".

Even in the early days of the pandemic, South Korea attracted international attention in February 2020 because a Christian sect with contacts in Wuhan, China, had introduced the virus to the city of Daegu.

With a strict strategy of testing, quarantine and tracking, the country later received much praise for a largely successful fight against the virus.

Until the omicron wave, the seven-day incidence was never higher than 50. South Korea now has around 400 corona deaths per 1 million inhabitants.

In Germany it is almost four times as much.

There was never a full lockdown

However, there was never a complete lockdown in South Korea.

Restrictions on public life were more moderate than in the West.

The strictest rules at times included that restaurants and shops required a vaccination card and that only two people were allowed to meet privately.

But that was finally in the past.

Despite the record high number of infections, parks have been well attended in sunny weather in recent weeks, especially since the cherry blossoms have lured people outside.

Restaurants, bars and small shops in particular are hoping for economic improvement from the lifting of the Corona rules.

Since Monday, there have been no curfews that were last at midnight.

More than 300 people are allowed to meet again.

Religious communities can again fill their prayer rooms to 100 percent and not just to 70 percent.

Companies are also gradually starting to bring more employees back into the office on a regular basis.

The steel company Posco, for example, has had almost all its employees back in the offices since this month.

The electronics manufacturer LG Electronics now only allows 30 percent of its employees to work from home instead of the previous 50 percent.

The government is already planning ahead.

Next week, Covid-19 will no longer be classified like Ebola, but only like tuberculosis or cholera.

From the end of May, corona infections no longer have to be reported immediately.

Infected people then no longer have to be quarantined for seven days.

Vaccinated travelers can already do without the quarantine.