The Defense Ministry tested personnel aboard a Maritime Self-Defense Force destroyer on an antipiracy mission in the Gulf of Aden between Yemen and Somalia for the novel coronavirus, government sources have said.

The ministry determined the need to ramp up measures against the COVID-19 outbreak, as the MSDF members are on a long-term mission and the working environment on the ship constitutes a closed and crowded place involving close contact with others, which is believed to increase group infection risks, the sources said Friday.

The Defense Ministry conducted polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests on crew aboard the destroyer Onami before it was deployed from the MSDF base in Yokosuka, Kanagawa Prefecture, late last month, according to the sources.

At a news conference on Friday, Defense Minister Taro Kono confirmed the PCR tests and said the ministry also plans to conduct tests on crew members of the MSDF destroyer Kirisame, which is scheduled to leave the Sasebo base in Nagasaki Prefecture on Sunday on a mission to gather intelligence for securing sea lane safety in the Middle East.

Kono said that the Kirisame’s crew will have coronavirus tests after departure, and that the vessel will head for the Middle East after conducting training in home waters for 14 days, if all crew members are test negative for the virus.

Djibouti, where the SDF has a base for activities in the Middle East, has introduced entry restrictions as part of its efforts to prevent the spread of COVID-19. As a result, the crew of MSDF destroyers will not be able to go ashore unless they are transported to a medical facility in the event that members are found to be infected with the coronavirus.

It is unclear whether Djibouti’s medical system can accommodate MSDF patients, so the Japanese government is making efforts to prevent infections among crew members in order to continue the antipiracy operations.

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