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Sports teams bracing for return to crowdless games amid surge in virus cases

All News 14:15 August 14, 2020

By Yoo Jee-ho

SEOUL, Aug. 14 (Yonhap) -- If the intensity level of the social distancing scheme in Seoul and its surrounding regions is moved up a notch, as the government hinted Friday, then gates to sports stadiums will be closed once again.

In light of a recent spike in COVID-19 cases, Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun said Friday he'll consider raising the three-tier social distancing drive from Level 1 to Level 2 in the capital region.

Baseball fans attend a Korea Baseball Organization regular season game between the home team Kiwoom Heroes and the Hanwha Eagles at Gocheok Sky Dome in Seoul on Aug. 11, 2020. (Yonhap)

Under Level 2, all indoor gatherings of 50 or more people and outdoor gatherings of 100 or more people are banned, which means no crowds at sports games.

The government may raise the social distancing level if daily new infections reach 50 to 100 over a two-week period or when infection clusters that are being closely monitored continue to grow. Cluster infections coming from small churches have been rising of late.

South Korea reported 103 new cases Friday, with 85 locally-transmitted ones. That's the largest number of local infections since March 31.

Seoul alone had 31 cases, the most since March, while three more came from Incheon, 40 kilometers west of Seoul, and 38 were reported in the nearby Gyeonggi Province.

It has been barely a month since professional baseball and football teams reopened their gates to fans.

The Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) season began without fans on May 5, and fans were first allowed to attend on July 26. In football's K League, whose season kicked off on May 8, supporters returned to seats on Aug. 1.

In the early phases, teams could only operate stadiums at 10 percent of their capacity to ensure safety and health of fans. Under protocols for both leagues, fans must sit at least a seat apart from one another, even if they're traveling in a group.

In this file photo from July 30, 2020, fans chase a home run ball hit by Park Dong-won of the Kiwoom Heroes during a Korea Baseball Organization regular season game against the Doosan Bears at Jamsil Baseball Stadium in Seoul. (Yonhap)

The cap was raised to 25 percent this week. KBO clubs began welcoming more fans on Tuesday, while the K League is scheduled to follow suit with a match between Seongnam FC and Busan IPark on Friday evening in Seongnam, just south of Seoul.

If the distancing intensity level goes up, Seongnam, located in Gyeonggi Province, would be among the affected city.

In the top-flight K League 1, four teams are based in the capital area: FC Seoul; Seongnam FC; Incheon United; and Suwon Samsung Bluewings in Suwon, 45 kilometers south of the capital.

The K League 2 has clubs in Seoul and Suwon, plus three more clubs in Gyeonggi Province -- in Bucheon, Ansan and Anyang.

In this file photo from Aug. 9, 2020, fans take in a K League 1 match between the home team Incheon United and Seongnam FC at Incheon Football Stadium in Incheon, 40 kilometers west of Seoul. (Yonhap)

In the KBO, five teams play in and around Seoul: the Doosan Bears, the LG Twins and the Kiwoom Heroes in the capital; the SK Wyverns in Incheon; and KT Wiz in Suwon.

When KBO clubs first started receiving fans, the Kia Tigers, based in Gwangju, 330 kilometers south of Seoul, couldn't join the rest of the league immediately because their city was placed under Level 2 in the social distancing drive.

It was lowered to Level 1 on Aug. 3.

In this file photo from Aug. 7, 2020, fans attend a K League 1 match between the home team FC Seoul and Gangwon FC at Seoul World Cup Stadium in Seoul. (Yonhap)

jeeho@yna.co.kr
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