A test event was held on October 6 at Toyota Stadium in Aichi Prefecture to see if large venues can safely lift COVID-19-related crowd restrictions if visitors submit vaccination certificates or negative test results.
The aim of the process is to finally enable more relaxed anti-virus measures even if another state of emergency is declared.
The test run was carried out for the first leg of a soccer semifinal in the J.League Levain Cup. The government plans to extend the measure to bars, restaurants and other venues with significantly smaller capacities.
Part of the Toyota Stadium was closed to people who were able to present a certificate showing they had received two shots of a COVID-19 vaccine or had a negative result on a polymerase chain reaction or other test.
A total of 1,800 seats were reserved for users of the certificate package, and tickets were priced at 500 yen ($ 4.50) each, less than half the cheapest general seat price.
For the game on October 6, 730 of the cheaper tickets were sold in advance.
Those with such tickets were instructed to go to seven special gates in the stadium where they were required to present either the vaccine or the negative test certificate along with ID.
The ticket office process went smoothly, but some people were refused entry because the required two weeks had not passed since their second vaccination.
The stadium organizers also conducted various tests to determine what changes might occur in fans participating with the certificate package.
Devices and cameras were installed to monitor fan movements in the stadium and to monitor whether spectators were wearing face masks.
The J.League plans to continue trials through October. For the Levain Cup final on October 30th in the Saitama Stadium, in addition to the general admission capacity of 10,000 seats, 10,000 tickets will be reserved for certificate package holders.
Nippon Professional Baseball is also considering using the certificate package system for the final weeks of the regular season as well as the playoffs.
Fans at major professional events were asked not to cheer loudly to prevent the spread of novel coronavirus infections.
As part of the certificate system, it should be checked, among other things, whether vaccinated people tend to take off their face masks and cheer.
Fans who use the new measure will also receive questionnaires by e-mail in order to check their future state of health and to ask for feedback on the certificate system.
J.League chairman Mitsuru Murai was at the Toyota Stadium and seemed pleased with the smooth entry process for those with the certificate packages.
If the test runs in bars and restaurants go smoothly, the shops could be allowed to serve alcohol even in a state of emergency.
However, it is unclear when such tests will be carried out as most bars and restaurants are not equipped to adequately verify the validity of vaccines or negative test certificates.
In addition, many of these companies are not actively trying to participate in the process, as the transition period for restricting operating hours and serving alcohol ends at the end of October.
Satoshi Kamayachi, a board member of the Japan Medical Association who also sits on the government’s panel of experts on the pandemic, doubts the use of negative test certificates because it is difficult to confirm that the holder actually took the test.
He said the reliability of such tests in Japan is still low because no structure has been put in place for rapid testing.
(This article was written by Kenichi Kimura, Satoshi Ushio, Kohei Morioka, Keishi Nishimura, and Kayoko Geji.)