When video game consoles from Sony and Nintendo launch in Japan, you can count on two things: long lines and lottery systems. You probably wouldn’t expect that for Covid-19 vaccinations.
In Japan, people typically wait in line for tickets when hardware is sort supply. Even now, as Famitsu reports, this lottery system is still being used for the hard-to-get PlayStation 5, although at least hopeful customers can enter online. Earlier in the pandemic, however, the in-person system was still used at an Osaka retailer for the Nintendo Switch. That incident caused controversy at the time, because of the disregard for social distancing.
Japan has ramped up its Covid-19 vaccination effort, with many parts of the country are still under a state of emergency. The overall vaccination rate is 43 percent, and it’s still not easy for many to get their jabs. Depending on the city or the area, there are different protocols. In the part of Osaka Prefecture where I live, you can either call or try to reserve online once you have a voucher ticket. Spots do fill up quickly, and some continue to check back on a weekly basis before successfully reserving a time.
However, last Friday, Tokyo’s Shibuya launched a walk-up vaccination center for young people aged 16 to 39 that did not require reservations. On Friday, the plan was to open at noon and offer 200 doses. This was a huge underestimate for how many Tokyo young people want to get vaccinated. NHK reports that that by 7:30 AM, there were already 300 people in line. The line was closed shortly thereafter.
“I got here at 3AM,” one man told NHK. “I haven’t been able to get an appointment for a jab in the ward where I live.”
On the second day, the center switched to a console-launch-style lottery system. While the tickets were passed out in person, the results were announced online.
The line stretched nearly 2,800 feet, almost to Harajuku Station. The vaccination center passed out tickets to 2,226 people. Out of those, 354 won the chance to be vaccinated.
Japanese media networks, including FNN and JNN, covered the lines like they would for a PlayStation or Apple launch, filming people sitting in camping chairs and interviewing those who did and did not get winning tickets.
“It wouldn’t have been necessary to come all the way to the center if applications had been accepted online,” said one university student to Jiji Press.
“If it’s going to be like this, it would be better just to increase the number of slots in municipal vaccinations,” 36-year-old Yoshimasa Iizuka, who didn’t get a winning ticket, told Mainichi News.
“I felt anxious lining with people I didn’t know,” said 27-year-old Yui Takata, who got a winning vaccination ticket. “I think having online reservations would be best.”
Besides Covid-19, there are also obvious concerns about heatstroke.
Yesterday, the Shibuya vaccination center did not allow a massive line to form, but still distributed lottery tickets to 1,357 people. Out of that, 354 won the chance to be vaccinated. The center, Nippon News Network adds, did not offer vaccinations today.
Hopefully in the coming days and weeks it will be easier to reserve vaccination spots.