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FANS IN THE STANDS. Fans wearing face masks to help protect against the spread of the novel coronavirus cheer during a Korean Baseball Organization league game between the Doosan Bears and LG Twins in Seoul, South Korea. Masked fans hopped, sang, and shouted cheers in baseball stadiums in South Korea as authorities began bringing back spectators in professional sports games amid the coronavirus pandemic. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)

From The Asian Reporter, V30, #09 (August 3, 2020), pages 10 & 16.

Baseball fans in South Korea back in stands amid COVID-19

By Hyung-Jin Kim

The Associated Press

SEOUL, South Korea — Masked fans hopped, sang, and shouted cheers in baseball stadiums in South Korea last month as authorities began allowing spectators to return to professional sports amid the coronavirus pandemic.

After a weeks-long delay, South Korea’s 2020 baseball season began in early May without fans in the stands amid a then-slowing virus outbreak in the country. Seats in baseball stadiums had since been filled with cheering banners, dolls, or pictures of fans.

The Korean Baseball Organization (KBO) allowed a limited number of fans — 10% of the stadium capacity — to watch games live. They entered stadiums after their temperatures and smartphone QR codes were checked. During the games, they were required to wear masks and sit at least a seat apart while being banned from eating food and drinking any alcoholic beverages in line with the KBO guidelines.

During a game between Doosan Bears and LG Twins at Seoul’s Jamsil baseball stadium, fans wearing the teams’ jerseys still shouted their favorite players’ names, raised banners, and sang fight songs. Some Bears fans jumped from their seats when Choi Joo-hwan hit a two-run home run in the bottom the second inning.

"Players will likely be cheered up when they hear fans rooting for them. I hope the coronavirus outbreak will be eased so that more fans can come in and we can play games in front of as many fans as we used to do," Bears outfielder Jung Soo-bin said before the game.

Kang dong-yeop, a 35-year-old fan, said he was "so excited about watching the game live that I screamed with joy in the car on the way" to the stadium.

Two of the five baseball games that weekend still continued without fans because they were held in areas where stricter social-distancing guidelines were in place.

Health authorities were allowing the professional soccer league to also have fans back in the stands over the weekend, and also starting with 10% of the stadium capacity. Senior Health Ministry official Yoon Taeho told reporters that professional golf tournaments would continue without galleries until at least late August.

South Korean officials plan to allow more fans into baseball and soccer stadiums if they report progress in anti-virus campaigning.

South Korea has seen an uptick in new virus cases since it eased its rigid social-distancing rules in early May. But the country’s caseload hasn’t exploded like its earlier outbreak in late February and early March, when it recorded hundreds of new cases every day.

Associated Press video journalist Kim Yong Ho contributed to this report.

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