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J. League, NPB to maintain restrictions on crowd size in order to help limit spread of virus

by Kaz Nagatsuka

STAFF WRITER

One day after several positive tests for COVID-19 forced the postponement of a J. League first-division game, Nippon Professional Baseball and the J. League participated in another joint task force meeting on Monday as part of their efforts to protect both leagues from the impact of the coronavirus.

On Sunday, a J1 contest between Sanfrecce Hiroshima and Nagoya Grampus was canceled after Nagoya confirmed that two players and a staff member had registered positive PCR tests in the previous two days.

NPB had earlier announced it would retain its attendance cap of 5,000 through August, altering its original plan to allow stadiums to be filled to half capacity from Aug. 1.

While the J. League extended its use of the same attendance cap through Aug. 10 early last week, league chairman Mitsuru Murai said Monday that his circuit would keep the restrictions in place through the end of August.

“We barely discussed the attendance restrictions during the task force meeting today,” Murai said. “But based on the government’s guidelines, I said during the meeting that we would keep limiting fans to 50 percent (of stadium capacities) or 5000, whichever is the smaller number, through August.”

Both leagues have followed government guidelines limiting spectators for large-scale events. Event operators have been permitted to allow fans into their venues since July 10.

On Sunday, Grampus announced it would administer PCR tests to 100 players and staff on Monday and Wednesday. The J. League has carried out mandatory PCR tests for all top-team players, staff and referees every two weeks.

Murai said the league would continue with biweekly testing, but will also look into other methods, such as antibody and antigen tests, in order to more effectively lower the risk of infection.

Hiroshige Mikamo, one of the core members of the task force’s medical panel, emphasized Grampus had worked extremely hard to prevent infections, in part because the club had two other players infected with the virus in June.

“They’ve put thorough protocols in place everywhere in their facilities, from the shower room to the training area, and I give them the utmost praise for their effort,” said Mikamo, who serves as a professor at Aichi Medical University. “But they still had members infected. We’re seeing more cases in the city of Nagoya. It makes me realize there are risks and how scary it is.”

Kazuhiro Tateda, another medical panel member, insisted that the two circuits should act under the assumption that there will likely be infections among spectators.

“Referring to the instance (of Grampus), we will need to reflect on what we should reflect on and prepare for next,” the Toho University professor said.

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