Don't drink, don't cheer: coronavirus curbs hit Korean baseball

Seoul (AFP) –


Stripping away South Korean baseball fans' rights to drink beer and savour fried chicken -- or even cheer -- while watching the country's most popular spectator sport would have been inconceivable in pre-coronavirus times.

But the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) imposed sweeping restrictions Tuesday ahead of the return of fans to the stadiums.

Nearly two months ago the league was among the first in the world to return to action, behind closed doors, after South Korea brought its outbreak under control.

Now limited numbers of spectators are expected to be allowed back in the coming days.

But the safety precautions announced by the KBO will transform the South Korean baseball experience, which has always been marked by fans wholeheartedly singing and dancing -- whatever the state of play -- fuelled by liberal supplies of alcohol and fried chicken.

Spectators will have to sit at least one seat apart and wear face masks at all times, the league's new safety manual said.

Eating while seated will be banned, with drinks limited to water and non-alcoholic beverages.

"Singing, chanting and cheering that involves physical contact will be banned as they could spread droplets," the manual says.

Beer and chicken will still be available at the stadium, but will have to be consumed away from the stands, out of sight of the field -- and people will have to remain a metre apart.

Those whose temperatures run at 37.5 degrees Celsius (97.7 Fahrenheit) and higher on entry will be turned away.

No confirmed cases among players or coaching staff from the 10 teams have been reported so far.

The league is preparing for fans to return despite what authorities have described as a second wave of infections in recent weeks, with around 30 new cases a day, mostly in the Seoul metropolitan area where half of the population lives.

Of 43 new cases reported on Tuesday -- taking the country's total to 12,800 -- 23 were domestic infections, while 20 were people arriving from overseas.