The U.S. Marines in Okinawa said Tuesday that it has detected “several” cases of COVID-19 infections at the contentious U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in the prefecture.

“Several SOFA status personnel aboard MCAS Futenma have tested positive for COVID-19,” Marine Corps Installations Pacific said in a statement. “The individuals that have tested positive and their close contacts have been moved into isolation. At this time, the source of exposure is unknown.”

The MCIPAC did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the exact number of cases.

While the Marines did not release the specific number of infections that were detected, the Okinawa Prefectural Government said Wednesday it was told by the U.S. military that five cases had been found, raising fears of a possible cluster.

The Marines said in the statement that a contact tracing team had been enlisted “to determine any additional potential exposures.”

“We are taking all prudent measures to prevent the further spread of COVID-19 and will continue to communicate with our forces, our families, and our local Okinawan communities openly,” it added.

On Wednesday, Okinawa Prefecture reported its first case of the deadly virus in 69 days aside from those found at the Futenma base. The island prefecture has registered a total of 143 COVID-19 infections and seven deaths.

The relocation of the Futenma base, located in densely populated city of Ginowan, Okinawa Prefecture, has long been a source of friction between locals, the central government and the U.S. military.

Any outbreak would be among only a handful reported among U.S. military personnel stationed in Japan.

In June, the commander of U.S. Forces Japan extended a so-called Public Health Emergency for all of Japan over the coronavirus pandemic. The emergency is due to end on July 14, unless it is renewed. The declaration was first issued on April 15, after an initial order covering only the Kanto region.

Information from Kyodo added

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