(ATTN: UPDATES with new meeting in paras 10-13, 15)
SEOUL, March 27 (Yonhap) -- When South Korean baseball clubs brought their foreign players back from their home countries over the past few days, they did so hoping to have them jump into ongoing offseason training right away.
Not so fast, the league office said Friday.
In an abrupt about-face, the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) will now require all foreign players who've recently returned from overseas to self-isolate for two weeks.
Five clubs -- the Samsung Lions, the KT Wiz, the Hanwha Eagles, the LG Twins and the Kiwoom Heroes -- will be subject to the new quarantining rule, put in place to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
After the end of spring training earlier this month, these foreign players chose not to travel to South Korea with the rest of their teams, as the country was struggling to contain the surge in COVID-19 cases. They instead went back to their home countries, with most returning to the United States. Roberto Ramos of the Twins went to Mexico, and Warwick Saupold headed to Australia. But as the spread slowed here while the virus started to ravage the U.S. and other parts of the world, the players came back to Korea, one by one.
Previously, the KBO said these players had to be tested for COVID-19 immediately upon arrival, and that they would be allowed to join their clubs immediately as long as their results came back negative. For the Twins, Ramos and Tyler Wilson reported to practice Thursday. Three foreign players each for the Lions and the Wiz have all tested negative, while those for the Eagles and the Heroes are awaiting their results.
But with a recent spike in imported cases, the government announced Wednesday that all travelers from the U.S. will be required to self-isolate for two weeks, starting Friday. Experts had argued that arrivals from overseas should be quarantined regardless of their test results because of the virus' incubation period and the possibility that there may be asymptomatic carriers.
And the KBO decided to tweak its coronavirus-related rules and apply the self-isolation rule retroactively.
"We consulted with the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other public health experts, and they recommended a two-week self-isolation for these foreign players," a KBO official said. "The experts pointed out that there's been a jump in cases among arrivals from the U.S. Clubs told us they'd cooperate with us."
But those five teams were apparently reluctant to do so. They asked the KBO on Friday for further explanation on its decision, and demanded it reschedule an executive committee meeting involving teams' general managers for next Tuesday.
On alternating Tuesdays this month, the KBO has met with the executive committee and the board of governors, made up of team presidents, to discuss the new schedule and other matters. The last executive committee meeting came on March 17, and its next gathering was supposed to come next Tuesday.
The KBO initially scrapped that meeting, since the board of governors already determined on Tuesday this week that the regular season will begin after April 20 and there was little left for general managers to discuss.
But then the sudden decision on players' self-isolation drew the ire of the affected clubs, and the KBO will meet with general managers after all.
The coronavirus pandemic forced the KBO to scrap its March 14-26 preseason action and delay the regular season start, which was slated to come this Saturday.
Following a decision reached at the most recent board meeting, the season will now begin April 21 at the earliest. The KBO is also hoping to schedule some preseason games, behind closed doors, starting on April 7, if it is considered safe enough for teams to travel and play against each other.
During the current hiatus, teams are limited to playing intrasquad scrimmages at their home parks.