SEOUL – South Korea will allow baseball fans to return to the stands beginning Sunday as health authorities outlined a phased process to bring back spectators in professional sports amid the COVID-19 epidemic.
Senior Health Ministry official Yoon Tae-ho also said at a virus briefing on Friday that fans will be allowed at professional soccer games starting on Aug. 1. However, professional golf tournaments will continue without galleries until at least late August, he said.
Both baseball and soccer teams will be initially allowed to sell only 10% of the seats for each game as officials plan to control the level of attendance based on the progress of anti-virus efforts.
Spectators will continue to be banned in the city of Gwangju and nearby South Jeolla province towns, which have elevated their social distancing measures following a rise in transmissions in recent weeks.
Fans will also be screened for fevers and required to sit apart in the seats. They will be required to wear masks, banned from eating food and drinking beer, and discouraged from excessive shouting, singing and cheering during the game. Stadium officials will also register fans with smartphone QR codes so that they could be easily located when needed.
South Korea’s baseball and soccer leagues returned to action in May 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.
South Korea’s daily increase of coronavirus cases again dropped below 50 on Friday, though an uptick has continued in the Seoul area.
The Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said of the 41 additional cases in the past 24 hours, 28 were locally infected and 13 came from overseas. They brought the national tally to 13,979, including 298 deaths.
South Korea has been reporting roughly 20-60 cases every day since it eased rigid social distancing rules in early May.
In other developments in the Asia-Pacific region:
— India’s coronavirus death toll has crossed the 30,000-mark with an additional 740 fatalities. India also registered a record surge of 49,310 new cases on Friday, taking the country’s confirmed tally to 1,287,945. At least 817,208 patients have recovered. Amid the surge in cases, India’s Home Ministry issued an advisory for Aug. 15 Independence Day celebrations, asking all government offices, states and officials to avoid large gatherings. India is at the third spot on the list of most affected countries after the United States and Brazil.
— Australian coronavirus hot spot Victoria state reported a drop in new infections for a second day Friday, but the state's leader urged continued caution. Victoria reported 300 new cases Friday after more than 400 on Thursday and Wednesday. It reported six new deaths, all in aged care homes. Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews said the military will bolster contact-tracing efforts. If an infected person can't be reached by phone, the military will accompany a health official to interview the person on the doorstep of their home. Anyone who is not at home will likely be fined for failing to home quarantine while awaiting a test result, he said.
— Thailand says six soldiers who took part in a joint U.S.-Thai military exercise in Hawaii have tested positive for the coronavirus after their return home. Taweesilp Visanuyothin, spokesman for the government’s Center for COVID-19 Situation Administration, said Friday the six were among 140 Thai soldiers who participated in the July 1-21 Lightning Forge 2020 exercise. He said when the soldiers returned Wednesday, those with virus symptoms were admitted to a military hospital while others were sent to a state quarantine center. He said a total of 10 new coronavirus cases had been confirmed Friday, bringing Thailand’s total to 3,279, including 58 deaths. In addition to the six soldiers, they were Thais returning from Sudan, Pakistan, the Netherlands and Germany. Thailand has not found any locally transmitted cases for 60 days.
— Cambodia’s Health Ministry confirmed four new cases of the coronavirus, all members of the Cambodian military who had been stationed in the African nation of Mali on a U.N. peacekeeping mission. The three men and a woman were members of a land mine clearing team. They were among 80 members who arrived back in Cambodia on July 10. Cambodia has confirmed 202 cases with no deaths. There have been no recent local transmissions. All new cases have involved arrivals from abroad, virtually all of them Cambodians but also including two U.S. diplomats.
— China reported two virus cases in a northeastern province on Friday as it continues to see clusters develop even though it has largely contained the virus in most of the country. Authorities in Liaoning province have closed theaters, night clubs and indoor tourist attractions to stem further infections. The Liaoning cases are China’s latest cluster after one in the far northwestern region of Xinjiang earlier this month. Elsewhere, major cities such as Beijing and Shanghai are opening up to increased economic activity and social interaction. China has recorded 4,634 deaths among 83,750 cases of COVID-19.
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