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NPB and J. League plan for regular testing when play resumes

by Kaz Nagatsuka

STAFF WRITER

As Nippon Professional Baseball and the J. League work toward their respective seasons, the two pro circuits heard suggestions, which included a need for regular COVID-19 testing, from the medical panel they’ve been consulting with during the ninth meeting of their joint task force on Monday.

Having already announced the top-flight season would resume on July 4, preceded by the second and third divisions on June 27, the J. League has already decided to administer PCR tests to its players, coaches and team officials every two weeks. NPB is also planning to test on a regular basis, as recommended by the panel.

The leagues were also advised to have emergency procedures in place so athletes who feel sick can be tested immediately.

“Infections have not stopped around the world. Especially in countries like the United States and Brazil, infections are still expanding,” Mitsuo Kaku, an infectious disease authority who leads the panel, said during an online news conference following the meeting. “Even after the state of emergency was lifted, we’ve still seen clusters in Japan and Tokyo. So we told (the leagues) to keep paying their utmost attention going forward.” Hiroshige Mikamo, another medical expert on the panel, said NPB had agreed to their proposals. The Aichi Medical University professor added that the panel advised NPB officials they would need to test players “once a month or so,” since there isn’t as much contact in baseball as there is in soccer.

He said a saliva test has been found to be as accurate as the nasal swab and the panel advised NPB to use that method.

Yomiuri Giants players Hayato Sakamoto and Takumi Oshiro tested positive for the virus last week, resulting in the abrupt cancellation of a practice game against the Seibu Lions at Tokyo Dome on Wednesday. The players said they didn’t suffer from any symptoms of the virus and subsequently recorded two negative tests each.

Currently, those infected with the virus are subject to a 14-day quarantine period. The panel, however, could not say for certain if those with cases such as Sakamoto and Oshiro should be quarantined for the same period because there isn’t enough data yet.

According to the Giants, results of the players’ antibody tests at the end of May showed both carried a type of antibody called IgG (immunoglobulin G) in their blood, which indicated they were recovering from the infection. Both played in a practice game against the Lions on June 2 before their PCR test results were revealed.

Kaku insisted that although the chances of the players infecting someone else may have been slim, they should not have been allowed to play.

The J. League and NPB, which will open its season on June 19, will return to play behind closed doors with hopes of eventually allowing fans to attend games. The panel warned the leagues against making premature decisions on that matter.

“The national government has suggested that (sports leagues) could eventually move into the stage of allowing something like 5,000 fans,” Kaku said. “But we think they should be careful. And I told the leagues that even when they allow fans in, they need to comprehensively think of related issues, such as transportation and food.”

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