Nippon Professional Baseball and the J. League will take a more evidence-oriented approach as they move toward potentially increasing the number of fans allowed to attend games, the two pro circuits said Monday after the 18th meeting of their joint COVID-19 task force.
The members of the task force, which in recent weeks has included a pair of epidemiologists as well as experts who perform research on events involving large gatherings, have said they are united in their goal to find a way to safely raise the limits on attendance by carefully analyzing the potential risks of infection.
The trial that will be conducted at Yokohama Stadium at the end of this month is expected to be a significant step in the process. The Yokohama BayStars will host a three-game series against the Hanshin Tigers from Oct. 30, with the stadium at roughly 80% of capacity.
So far, the two leagues have allowed games to be played at venues operating at half-capacity, in line with government guidelines for large-scale events.
The BayStars plan to set up high-resolution cameras around the stadium to monitor things such as the percentage of people wearing masks and congestion around the stadium, especially near the bathrooms.
The team will use the Fugaku supercomputer to analyze the path of droplets in the stands, and will also measure the risk of infection before and after each game using a smartphone application developed by LINE and approved by Kanagawa Prefecture.
The experiment will be a collaborative effort between the BayStars, DeNA (the club’s parent company), LINE, NEC and the city of Yokohama.
The task force members said their work was entering a new phase with the ability to obtain data through experiments and make decisions based on scientific approaches.
Hiroshige Mikamo, a member of the task force’s medical panel, said earlier decisions had been based estimated numbers of infections. Now, he said, the panel can analyze actual data.
“I think this will lead to the success of the (Tokyo) Olympics and Paralympics and the influence of this task force on those games may be even greater going forward,” Mikamo said during an online news conference following the meeting. “Today, we received an interim report from the epidemiological experts. But between the corporations, our medical panel, the regional (medical) advisors and the epidemiological doctors, I am certain that this will help NPB and the J. League move forward while also providing significant research materials for the Olympics and Paralympics.”
Mitsuo Kaku, who heads the medical panel, warned that the leagues would have to be cautious about raising the number of spectators, because the risk of infection will not disappear right away.
“It’s a significant rise from 50% to 70 … 80%,” Kaku said. “You have to do that very cautiously. The Yokohama model will provide us with a certain amount of data, but the amount will be big and it’s not like we can analyze that in a week.”
NPB Commissioner Atsushi Saito said that he would be pleased if the league was able to officially raise the attendance cap, but acknowledges that the players, officials and the fans would have to follow the measures and guidelines in order for that to happen.
“We’ve been in contact with (the government officials) relatively closely,” Saito said. “And DeNA will do the trial in cooperation with Kanagawa Prefectures and their other local governments, and we are glad to hear that.”
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