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Osaka Pref. city closes vaccine booking desk as elderly prepare to wait overnight for slots

Residents of the city of Ibaraki, Osaka Prefecture, are seen gathered outside the local welfare and culture center where a coronavirus vaccine reservation desk was set to be opened, at around 6 a.m. on May 10, in this photo provided by a resident.

OSAKA -- The west Japan city of Ibaraki in Osaka Prefecture closed its reservation desk for mass coronavirus vaccinations on May 10, after eligible elderly people descended upon the government building for appointments and attempted to wait overnight to receive slots.

    From the dawn hours of May 10, many elderly people came to the appointments desk for coronavirus vaccinations, but from the day before the city government had already been distributing numbered tickets ahead of opening for vaccine reservations.

    Although the physical reservations desk stopped taking bookings over what was described as consideration for the health of the elderly people trying to line up overnight, many people who came on May 10 were dissatisfied and expressed opposition to the decision. Ibaraki City Mayor Yoichi Fukuoka was also called out early in the morning to the site, and the situation escalated further when police officers rushed to the scene.

    From May 6, the Ibaraki Municipal Government was accepting vaccine reservations in three ways: from its call center, its website and from a physical reception. Following the commotion on May 10, it has decided to close the physical reception from accepting vaccine reservations.

    As congestion had been expected at the city's welfare and culture center, which served as the venue for vaccine reservations, numbered tickets were distributed to allow them to accept appointments based on the order they were handed out. On May 6 or 7, allocations were soon filled up.

    Under the conditions, people began lining up outside the center from after midday May 9, ahead of the beginning of desk-based reservations at the start of the week on May 10. To avoid making elderly people wait outside overnight, the city government brought forward numbered ticket distribution. By about 10:30 p.m. on May 9, it had distributed the planned allocation for 120 people.

    Because of this, numerous residents who came in the early hours of May 10 complained about the lack of numbered ticket distribution. To try and quell the situation, the mayor rushed to the scene to clarify the circumstances leading to the trouble. Among the statements he made, he apologized and also explained that the distribution of numbered tickets had been outlined on the city government's website ahead of time.

    But few of the gathered residents went home satisfied with the explanation; most stayed, with some even expressing anger at the mayor and demanding he resign. A woman in her 70s who came to the venue at around 4 a.m. told the Mainichi Shimbun with some frustration: "I couldn't connect to the call center, I don't understand how they're running the reservation desk either. What the heck is the city government doing?"

    A city government official explained: "We did establish a physical desk for elderly people and others who can't use the internet, but it's instead ended up making people wait for long periods of time. Out of consideration for residents' health, we have decided to close the desk."

    (Japanese original by Tatsuki Noda and Kenkichi Tanaka, Osaka City News Department)

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