Jul 7, 2020 - Sports

Japan preps for baseball fans as U.S. struggles with coronavirus surge

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins; Chart: Axios Visuals
Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins; Chart: Axios Visuals

While MLB struggles with testing delays ahead of its shortened season, Japan's Nippon Pro Baseball (NPB) — the world's second-best league behind MLB — has not only resumed play, but will soon allow fans at games.

  • NPB: The season began nearly three weeks ago, and some fans will be allowed at ballparks starting Friday (either 5,000 or 50% capacity, whichever is smaller).
  • MLB: Multiple teams canceled workouts on Monday due to delayed test results. Summer camp began on July 1, and Opening Day is still scheduled for July 23 (highlighted by Yankees at Nationals).

By the numbers: The U.S. has 2.6 times more people than Japan (328.2 million vs. 126.5 million), and 26 times more land.

  • Both countries recorded their first confirmed COVID-19 case at roughly the same time (Jan. 16 for Japan; Jan. 20 for the U.S.).
  • On March 28, the U.S. had its first day with 20,000+ new cases. Since then, we've seen just 13 days with fewer than 20,000 new cases, while Japan has yet to reach 20,000 cases total.
  • Between this past Friday and Sunday, Japan reported 648 new cases. Over that same period, the U.S. reported 150,657.

The shutdown:

  • NPB: Starting Feb. 29, the league barred fans from attending preseason games; by March 9, they'd shut down and pushed back Opening Day. At the time, Japan had just 502 confirmed cases of COVID-19.
  • MLB: Fans were still in the stands at spring training on March 12, when MLB followed the NBA's lead and shut it down. At the time, there were over 1,000 confirmed cases in the U.S.

The big picture: Japan's success in curbing the spread has puzzled experts, since they "largely ignor[ed] the default playbook," Time reports. Rather than emphasizing testing (they'd tested just 0.2% of their population through late May), Japan relied on a culture of mask-wearing and a focus on contact tracing.

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