Photo/Illutration A sign designates the special seating section at Toyota Stadium for those entering with the vaccine or negative test certificate package. (Masaki Yamamoto)

A trial event was held at Toyota Stadium in Aichi Prefecture on Oct. 6 to determine if large venues can safely lift COVID-19-related restrictions on crowd sizes if visitors show vaccine certificates or negative test results.

The aim of the trial is to eventually allow for more relaxed anti-virus measures even if another state of emergency is declared.

The test run was conducted for the first leg of a soccer semifinal in the J.League Levain Cup. The government plans to extend the measure to bars, restaurants and other event venues with much smaller capacities.

A section of Toyota Stadium was restricted for people who could show a certificate proving they had received two jabs of a COVID-19 vaccine or had a negative result in a polymerase chain reaction or other test.

A total of 1,800 seats were set aside for the certificate package users, and the tickets cost 500 yen ($4.50) each, less than half of the cheapest price for general admission seats.

For the Oct. 6 game, 730 of the cheaper tickets were sold, in advance.

Those with such tickets were instructed to head to seven special gates at the stadium where they were required to present either the vaccine or negative test certificate along with personal ID.

The process at the ticket gates ran smoothly, but a few individuals were denied entry because the required two weeks had not passed since their second vaccine shot.

Stadium organizers also conducted various tests to determine what changes might occur among fans who enter with the certificate package.

Equipment and cameras were installed to monitor fan movement at the stadium and whether spectators were wearing face masks.

The J.League plans to continue the trials through October. For the Levain Cup final scheduled for Oct. 30 at Saitama Stadium, 10,000 tickets will be set aside for certificate package holders in addition to the general admission capacity of 10,000 seats.

Nippon Professional Baseball is also considering the use of the certificate package system for the final weeks of the regular season, as well as the playoffs.

Fans at major professional sport events have been asked to not cheer out loud as one way to prevent the spread of novel coronavirus infections.

One factor to be examined under the certificate system is whether those who have been vaccinated are more inclined to remove their face masks and cheer.

Fans who use the new measure will also be sent questionnaires by email to check on their subsequent health conditions and to ask for feedback about the certificate system.

J.League Chairman Mitsuru Murai was at Toyota Stadium and seemed satisfied with the smooth entry process of those with the certificate packages.

If the trial runs at bars and restaurants go smoothly, the businesses could be allowed to serve alcohol even during a state of emergency.

However, it is unclear when such tests will be conducted because most bars and restaurants are not equipped to adequately check the validity of vaccine or negative test certificates.

In addition, many of these businesses are not actively trying to take part in the trial because the interim period for restrictions on operating hours and serving alcohol will end in late October.

Satoshi Kamayachi, an executive board member of the Japan Medical Association who also sits on the government panel of experts dealing with the pandemic, cast doubt on using negative test certificates because of the difficulty of confirming the holder actually took the test.

He said the reliability of such tests in Japan was still low because no structure had been set up to allow for quick testing.

(This article was written by Kenichi Kimura, Satoshi Ushio, Kohei Morioka, Keishi Nishimura and Kayoko Geji.)