NEW TAIPEI, Taiwan (Reuters) - Taiwan reopened baseball games to a limited number of fans on Friday for the first time since controls were imposed to limit the spread of the coronavirus, part of government efforts to slowly allow normal life to resume.
Taiwan has been relatively successful at controlling the virus, with 440 cases to date and 6 deaths, with only 85 active infections, thanks to early prevention and detection efforts.
The island has never gone into total lockdown although the government has promoted social distancing and face masks, and stopped mass attendance at events like sports matches.
Both the baseball and soccer seasons got underway in Taiwan last month, but without spectators, providing rare live action for fans at a time when the pandemic has shut down most professional sport around the globe.
On Friday evening, 1,000 spectators were allowed in to baseball matches in New Taipei, which surrounds the capital Taipei, and the central city of Taichung.
Fans expressed their joy at being allowed to see the game with their own eyes again.
Lin Wen-hsuan, 30, holding her ticket in her hand, told Reuters the re-opening was much sooner than she had thought.
“Initially I had expected to wait until the second half of the season before being able to enter the stadium,” Lin told Reuters. “I feel very happy.”
Fans were required to undergo temperature checks, wear face masks and sit at least one metre apart. Tickets were sold on a “real name” basis with designated seats, meaning authorities can easily trace people if there are any infections linked back to attending the matches.
The home team, the Fubon Guardians, beat the Uni-President Lions, to the backdrop of drumming and chanting by opposing fans.
“I anticipated this for so long. I thought it would still take a long, long time before I’d be able to watch baseball, but then they suddenly announced that we can come into the stadium to watch baseball. I immediately went to buy tickets,” said Nono Chen, 39.
“I think the results of the epidemic prevention pushed by the government are very good, so I feel very lucky to live in Taiwan.”
Baseball is wildly popular in Taiwan, thanks to a strong cultural influence from Japan and the United States.
Reporting by Fabian Hamacher; Writing by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan