With restrictions, fans will return to Korean baseball

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South Korea's professional baseball league says it will require fans to wear masks and sit down at least one separate seat as it prepares to bring viewers back in the coming weeks amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The Korean Baseball Organization said Tuesday that fans will also not be allowed to eat food in the stands. The teams will initially be able to sell just 30% of the seats for each game, a figure that could expand to as much as 50% depending on progress in the country's antivirus efforts, according to league plans.

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Fans will also be screened for fevers and discouraged from excessive yelling, singing and cheering during the game to avoid 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 able to drink water or non-alcoholic beverages.

They will be able to buy tickets only with credit cards so that the health authorities can easily locate them when necessary. South Korea has been actively tracking the contacts of virus carriers using credit card information, cell phone location data, and surveillance camera footage.

KBO is also considering requiring fans to sign up with smartphone QR codes, a technology that has been implemented in companies like nightclubs, karaoke rooms, and gyms to track customers when broadcasts occur.

If a fan is confirmed to be a COVID-19 patient during a game, the KBO will immediately suspend the game and close the stadium for sanitation as health authorities trace the person's contacts. Players or team personnel will be evaluated if necessary.

If players or other team members become infected, the league will close the facilities they visited for a minimum of two days, but will continue games if possible. However, if the virus carriers had contacted more than six people, or if there are other risks of new transmissions, the KBO could hold an emergency board meeting to determine if it will close the league for a minimum of 21 days.

The KBO became one of the world's first major sporting competitions to return to action in May, but with no fans in the stands. The seats have been covered with banners, dolls, or photos of fans as teams tried to mimic a festive atmosphere.

Health authorities and sports ministry officials have been discussing preventive measures while trying to schedule a return of fans in baseball, soccer, golf, and other sports. The plans could be announced as soon as this week.

"It would be important to reduce crowd density, so our plan is to minimize crowd size at first," said Jeong Eun-kyeong, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in South Korea, during a briefing.

"We need to require (fans) to wear masks, to refrain from encouraging activities that involve screaming, and to minimize any activity that requires removing the masks, such as consuming food."

South Korea's measures to re-admit fans to sporting events come despite the resurgence of the coronavirus in the Seoul metropolitan area, which is home to roughly half of the country's 51 million people. Despite the steady increase in infections, government officials have been reluctant to apply stronger social distancing patterns due to concerns about further damaging a fragile economy, which the policy makers' project would cut for the first time in 22 years.

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