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Korean Government urges caution amid full reopening for baseball

The South Korean Government today (Tuesday) called on baseball fans to stop chanting at ballparks following the full reopening of venues.

The Government last week announced that from November 1, capacities at outdoor sports stadia could increase to 50%, regardless of fans’ COVID-19 vaccination status. The Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) took this guidance further, announcing that it would open its ballparks at full capacity, provided that fans are either fully vaccinated or have tested negative for COVID-19 within 48 hours of a game.

Eating and drinking from seats is now also permitted within KBO venues, something else that also hasn’t been the case since the pandemic took hold last year. However, Son Young-rae, a senior health ministry official, today urged caution, pointing to the risks of spreading COVID-19, even among individuals wearing face masks.

The first KBO game under the eased restrictions took place yesterday (Monday) at Jamsil Baseball Stadium (pictured) in Seoul, as the Doosan Bears hosted the Kiwoom Heroes in a wild card game. In later innings of the Heroes’ 7-4 victory, Korean news agency Yonhap reported that fans started chanting and shouting players’ names, despite warnings through the PA system at the stadium.

“We’ll discuss this issue with the sports ministry, clubs and the KBO to make sure rules are followed,” Son said. “Shouting and chanting will produce droplets, and it will reduce the effectiveness of masks.”

With consuming food now allowed in the stadium bowl, Son said he was concerned about fans eating and chanting at the same time, citing infection risks with masks pulled below people’s mouths.

Told that fully vaccinated sports fans in other countries are not faced with restrictions on chanting, Son pointed to cultural differences between Asia and other parts of the world.

He added: “In Asia, we put an emphasis on protection that masks provide, while there are still debates in the West. Getting vaccinated is the first step, but considering the spread of the delta variant, we believe masks are important as the last line of defence.”

For the majority of the current season, KBO teams have been restricted to 30% capacities in their stadia. Teams in the greater Seoul area were forced behind closed doors during the fourth wave of the pandemic from July to October before returning to 30% capacity for fully vaccinated fans from October 18.

Image: Cyberdoomslayer/CC BY-SA 4.0/Edited for size