NEW TAIPEI CITY, Taiwan — The Taiwan baseball league is continuing as a trailblazer for sports resuming after the lockdown in the coronavirus pandemic.
An easing last weekend allows more fans at the ballparks, allows them to sit closer together and consume food and drinks while they're supporting their teams in the Taiwan-based CPBL.
Masks are optional, when seated.
The Taiwan league resumed play in April in empty stadiums while elite sports globally were still in lockdown, and last month started allowing up to 1,000 fans to attend games under strict social distancing measures.
On Sunday, after the government again loosened its COVID-19 restrictions, fans were only required to wear surgical face masks when they weren't in their seats, and the stadiums were allowed to be up to 50% full of fans.
The CPBL is continuing to observe limited social distancing by ordering a one-seat gap be maintained between fans.
The lifting of restrictions was welcomed at Tuesday's game between the defending CPBL champion Rakutan Monkeys and the visiting Uni-Lions in Tainan.
Monkeys fan Martha Chen said she could now cheer as much as she wants without a mask. The Uni-Lions held off a ninth inning rally to beat the defending CPBL champions 7-6.
"From now on, we don't have to wear a mask when we watch a baseball game at the stadium. This allows me to shout out loud as much as I want to cheer for my team," the 31-year-old Chen, an air transport worker, said. "And my kid would not bother me with taking the mask off. Kids find it hard to wear a mask."
Uni-Lions pitcher Logan Darnell said the easing of restrictions on fans made it feel "a lot more like a baseball game".
"Everybody is excited that there's less restrictions on the fans coming in. They make us feel a lot more normal than what is was beforehand," Darnell said. "You had a certain amount of people that can come in, and everybody was spread out. And even before that, when there was nobody in the stands, that was just a different ... different feel. But now that everybody is back and the restrictions are kind of less, it's going feel a lot more like a baseball game for sure."
Taiwan, which has had 433 COVID-19 cases among a population of 23 million, limited the spread by imposing flight restrictions and through contact tracing of anyone who comes near a confirmed patient.
Elite sports leagues are gradually resumed in some countries, mostly without fans in stadiums or with very small crowds under strict physical distancing restrictions.