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Asia Minute: COVID-19 and Baseball in Asia

AP Photo/Lee Jin-man

Professional sports are back in a big way in the United States, despite the COVID-19 pandemic. The National Football League opened its season yesterday, while playoffs are underway for basketball and hockey. Major League Baseball is approaching the end of its regular season, but in parts of Asia, that season will stretch a bit longer.

Professional baseball in South Korea got off to a late start this year, but it’s been getting wider attention than usual. That’s because of a contract with U.S. broadcaster ESPN, which has been showing games since the season started in early May — long before the major leagues started playing.

Near the end of July, South Korea opened its stadiums to fans. 10% of capacity at first, then moving to 25% of capacity — but for a short time. A spike in new cases of COVID-19 in August led to a national ban on gatherings of more than 100 people outside.

The games continue — but now they’re back playing in empty stadiums until the season ends in mid-October.

In Taiwan, the season opened in early May with up to a thousand fans per game in the stands. Food was allowed in June — and the first crowd of 10,000 surged into a stadium in July.

In Japan, the professional baseball season will linger until mid-November. Since early July, up to 5,000 fans per game have been allowed in person. Starting next month that will rise to half the capacity of stadiums.

But fans are expressly told to hold onto their ticket stubs for at least two weeks – in case the information is needed for contact tracing.

Bill Dorman has been the news director at Hawaiʻi Public Radio since 2011.
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