Japan has used new technology to determine if large crowds can watch sports events in safety amid the coronavirus pandemic, less than a year before Tokyo is due to host the coronavirus-postponed Olympics.

High-precision cameras examined spectators’ movements, and the proportion who were wearing masks, over the course of three baseball matches at Yokohama Stadium from last Friday. Carbon dioxide-monitoring devices and wind-speed measuring machines were installed to gauge how saliva droplets spread when spectators wearing masks shouted, and ate, and drank.

On Friday, up to 16,000 people were permitted to enter the 34,000-seat stadium to watch the Yokohama DeNA BayStars play the Hanshin Tigers, with the maximum raised to 80% of capacity on Saturday and 100% for the third and final game on Sunday.

Reports said the number of fans fell short of the total target, with some apparently choosing to stay away amid signs of a slight uptick in cases in Japan. The country has recorded just over 100,000 Covid-19 infections and about 1,750 deaths – a relatively low number in a country of 126 million people.

The choice of Yokohama Stadium was no coincidence: it will be the main venue for softball and baseball matches at next summer’s Games, which are due to open on 23 July.

“We will report our findings here to the government,” said Kiyotaka Eguchi, a local government official. “The information we get here will be reflected in [government] guidelines, and that will also be used for the next year’s Olympics and professional baseball.”

Fans entering the stadium were asked to install a contact-tracing app so they can be notified if they came into contact with or sat near someone who later tested positive for the virus.

They were asked not to cheer loudly during the matches, while staff approached fans who were not wearing masks to cover their faces, local media accounts said. Older people and those with pre-existing health conditions were asked not to attend.

Data from the trial will be combined with simulations carried out by the supercomputer Fugaku and could help the government decide whether to relax current limits on the number of people allowed to attend sporting and other big events.

Currently, no more than 50% of seats can be filled in venues with a capacity of over 10,000, although that ceiling, which will remain in place until the end of the month, did not apply during the recent baseball trial.


Source: The Guardian