Large crowds and poor crowd-managing policies caused uproar at the appointment desk, which ultimately led to it getting shutting down. 

Japan’s coronavirus vaccination campaign began in February, but though the country is working to slowly vaccinate its most vulnerable populations, many complain that it isn’t moving fast enough. That seems especially true for the elderly citizens of Ibaraki City in Osaka prefecture, whose demand for the vaccine caused the city to shut down its in-person appointment registrations for fear of their safety.

On May 6, Ibaraki City opened up vaccine appointment registrations for citizens over 65 in three ways: over the phone, online, and in-person at a reception desk at the city’s Welfare and Culture Hall. As senior citizens often have trouble navigating the Internet, officials expected the reception desk to draw crowds and therefore installed a system of distributing ticket numbers to those waiting in line, to prevent seniors from having to stand in line for a long time in close quarters.

But the demand for vaccines was such that the number of tickets to make appointments reached capacity on both May 6 and 7, leaving some queuers going home without assurance of an appointment at the end of the day. As a result, before the weekend was up, seniors began to line up for the reopening of the appointment desk on Monday May 10 as early as noon on May 9, with the intention to stay all day and night if necessary in order to get an appointment.

To prevent seniors from spending the night outside the hall, officials decided to distribute ticket numbers for May 10 ahead of time, and ended up distributing all 120 tickets before 10 p.m. on the day prior. Unfortunately, that meant that there were no more tickets for those who would visit the reception desk on the day of its opening, which resulted in uproar on Monday as many wondered why there were no reception tickets left when the day hadn’t even started yet.

▼ A photo of the crowd drawn on the morning of May 10

Hoping to alleviate the situation, the mayor of Ibaraki City, Youichi Fukuoka, rushed to the scene to explain what happened and to inform the crowd that they could get ticket numbers online as well as in person, but his explanations did not satisfy the outraged seniors, some of whom even called for the mayor’s resignation. One 70-year-old woman, who arrived to wait in line at the reservation desk at four in the morning, said, “The call center doesn’t answer the phone, and this reception desk doesn’t make sense. What is the city doing?”

As a result of the chaos, crowds, and discontent, the city opted that the best course of action was to close the reception desk and offer only socially distant methods of signing up for vaccine appointments. “We set up the reception desk for those who can’t use the Internet well,” said a person in charge, “But it ended up with long wait times. Out of consideration for the health of our residents, we decided to close the reception desk.”

Hopefully the phone lines get more attendants, or they find a better method for in-person registration, because the Olympics are coming, and even though efforts are being made to make it safer, there’s still plenty of doubt as to whether people in Japan will be safe with the influx of visitors that comes with it.

Source: Mainichi Shimbun via Hachima Kiko
Top image: Pakutaso

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