Baseball is back in Japan, and so are fans in the stadiums

TOKYO (AP) — Japan’s professional baseball league opened the delayed season three weeks ago. Now fans are back, too.

After playing in empty stadiums to get started, Japan began allowing up to 5,000 fans into the games on Friday, or 50% of the stadium capacity — whichever is smaller. Officials hope to allow stadiums to be filled to 50% capacity beginning on Aug. 1.

Japan’s soccer J-League is also allowing fans to return, beginning on Friday, under the same guidelines.

“I think starting with 5,000 spectators is a good idea,” said Hidetoshi Yuasa, who attended Friday’s game between the the Lotte Marines and the Seibu Lions played on the outskirts of Tokyo in suburban Chiba prefecture.

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“If the situation gets worse because of this, then we have no choice but to go back as before. I think it’s a good idea to try it like this,” he added.

Japan has been largely successful controlling COVID-19 with about 1,000 deaths attributed to the coronavirus pandemic. The United States, with a population about 2 1/2 times larger, has recorded more than 130,000 deaths.

However, Tokyo has reported more than 200 new cases in each of the last several days. That is the highest number in the Japanese capital since April.

Fans were required to use hand disinfectant and have their temperatures taken when they entered the stadium. Shops were open and food and drinks were for sale, but alcohol was not allowed.

Restrictions were also put on the amount of cheering permitted, a staple at games in Japan.

“It’s a bit sad that we can’t cheer as we usually do,” Marines’ fan Mai Kojima said. “But I’m sure that will get back to normal. I guess we’ll just have to be patient for now.”

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