April 24 Opening Day is madness


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Tokyo Disneyland may be closed due to the coronavirus outbreak, but Fantasyland is operating at full capacity in the halls of government and in the offices of Nippon Professional Baseball.

For three months, the Japanese government has been in full-fledged denial about how the spread of the new coronavirus might affect its staging of the Olympics. Schools were requested to close for all of March, and promoters of large events were asked to either cancel them, postpone or hold them behind closed doors, but the official insistence that everything would be alright and the Olympics would not need to be rescheduled has delivered a powerfully mixed message.

Through the weekend, the official message from the government and Olympic organizers has been that nothing would prevent the games from going forward as scheduled from July 24. This message was often delivered as: “We will take every measure to ensure the health and safety of the athletes and the fans, but the games will go on no matter what.”

On Monday, with the Olympics all but certain to be postponed until at least next year, Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike, who a few weeks ago asserted that there was no chance the games would be canceled or postponed, spoke of a possible lockdown in Tokyo for the first time if things get worse.

Yet, while Tokyo began talking about emergency measures on Monday, NPB and Japan’s pro soccer establishment, the J-League, announced it was time to restart their seasons in April with NPB planning to pack fans into its parks from April 24.

Obviously, this is not because Japan has the coronavirus outbreak under control since that is very much in doubt. Rather the reason seems to be NPB’s desire to get fans into the parks for a full slate of 143 games. On March 23, NPB announced it had run various simulations and decided that April 24 was the last day that a full schedule could be played. So now, “voila” there’s our new Opening Day.

NPB’s announcement on Monday sounds more like the old Olympic mantra: “We’ll do everything to ensure the safety of the players and the fans, but it’s our business and we’re going to play our games.”

So even if cramming 30,000 fans and a few thousand stadium employees onto public transit and into close quarters during a pandemic is a really bad idea, well 143 games is kind of important to us and our fans want us to play so there.

Although the government has asked companies to have employees work from home and midday trains in Tokyo are less crowded than usual, morning rush hour still sees people crammed together in rolling virus incubators.

People were warned this past week not to assemble in parks across the country for spring tradition of having picnics and drinking sessions under the cherry blossoms, but parks filled up nonetheless.

On Sunday, the promoter of a mixed-martial-arts event outside Tokyo defied government requests to put the event on hold and opened it up to 6,500 fans.

Many are encouraged by the fact that Japan has not buckled under the weight of the pandemic, but that doesn’t mean it couldn’t still happen.

Japan’s infection rate has been slower than that of western European nations or the United States. And relative to those nations, Japan has acted quickly, but there’s also been a sense that the government is not giving us the whole truth. One can apply for being tested in Tokyo if they meet the following conditions.

  • In the past two weeks they have come into contact with an infected person, or traveled in an area with infections.
  • Pregnant women, senior citizens and those with underlying health conditions who have experienced cold-like symptoms, a fever of 37.5 C or higher, extreme fatigue or difficulty breathing for around two days.
  • A member of the general population experiencing the above conditions for four days or more.

Those satisfying the pre-conditions can then call and ask about being tested. It’s almost as if the government didn’t want to know the truth, lest the image of control was revealed to be just a facade.

There is a concern that many infected people with mild symptoms or none at all are circulating freely, encouraged by Japan’s officially low infection rate, and that the country is a viral bomb awaiting a trigger to go off.

And now with schools set to reopen soon, and pro baseball and soccer aiming to pack people into stadiums again, it looks like that trigger is being prepared.

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