SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — South Korea’s professional baseball league says it will require fans to wear masks and to sit at least a seat apart as it prepares to bring back spectators in the coming weeks amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The Korea Baseball Organization on Tuesday said fans will also not be allowed to eat food in the stands. Teams will be initially allowed to sell only 30% of the seats for each game, a figure that could be expanded to as much as 50% depending on the progress in the country’s anti-virus efforts, according to the league’s plans.
Fans will also be screened for fevers and discouraged from excessive shouting, singing and cheering during the game to prevent contact or dispersion of droplets, the KBO said. And perhaps as a means of discouraging any boisterous behavior, beer will also be banned and fans will only be allowed to drink water or non-alcoholic beverages.
They will be able to buy tickets only with credit cards so that health authorities could easily locate them when needed. South Korea has been actively tracing the contacts of virus carriers using credit-card information, cellphone location data and surveillance camera footage.
The KBO is also considering requiring fans to register themselves with smartphone QR codes, a technology that has been enforced at businesses such as nightclubs, karaoke rooms and gyms to track customers when transmissions occur.
If a fan is confirmed as a COVID-19 patient during a game, the KBO will immediately suspend play and shut down the stadium for sanitation as health authorities trace the person’s contacts. Players or team staff will be tested if needed.
If players or other team members get infected, the league will close the facilities they visited for a minimum two days but continue with the games if possible. However, if the virus carriers had contacted more than six people, or there are other risks of further transmissions, the KBO could hold an emergency board meeting to determine whether to shut down the league for a minimum 21 days.
The KBO became one of the world’s first major sports competitions to return to action in May, but without fans in the stands. Seats have been covered with cheering banners, dolls or pictures of fans as teams tried to mimic a festive atmosphere.
Health authorities and sports ministry officials have been discussing preventative measures as they try to schedule a return of fans in baseball, soccer, golf and other sports. The plans could be announced as early as this week.
“It would be important foremost to reduce the density of the crowd, so our plan is to minimize the size of the crowd at first,” Jeong Eun-kyeong, director of South Korea’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said during a briefing.
“We need to require (fans) to wear masks, have them refrain from cheering activities that involve shouting and minimize any activity that would require taking off masks, such as consuming food.”
South Korea’s moves to re-admit fans in sporting events come despite a resurgence of the coronavirus in the Seoul metropolitan area, which is home to about half of the country’s 51 million population. Despite the steady rise in infections, government officials have been reluctant to enforce stronger social distancing guidelines out of concerns of further hurting a fragile economy, which policymakers project would shrink for the first time in 22 years.