National

U.S. bases in Okinawa report more COVID-19 cases, pushing total to 99

KYODO, REUTERS, AFP-JIJI

Tokyo and Washington are sharing information about surging coronavirus infections at U.S. military bases in Japan, after a total of 99 cases were reported at five facilities in Okinawa Prefecture over the last week through Tuesday.

The prefectural government said that 71 coronavirus cases have been confirmed at Futenma and 22 at another U.S. Marine base, Camp Hansen, as well as four cases at Kadena Air Base and one case each at Camp McTureous and Camp Kinser.

The Okinawa government said it was informed by U.S. forces about the latest figure. Futenma and Camp Hansen have been put on lockdown by the military.

Meanwhile, U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni said several people working at the base in Yamaguchi Prefecture had been infected with the virus. It is the first time that infections linked to the air station have been confirmed, according to the prefectural government.

The surge in infections at the U.S. military bases has stoked already-simmering anger in Okinawa.

Japan’s southernmost prefecture hosts the bulk of U.S. military forces in the country, whose alliance with Washington is central to its security. But many Okinawans associate the bases with problems from crime to accidents, and want the Marines to reduce their presence or leave the area altogether.

The central government said on Monday that it was cooperating with the U.S. “appropriately on this matter.”

“Japan and the United States are sharing information about the activity history of the infected military individuals,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a regular news briefing.

Over the weekend, Okinawa Gov. Denny Tamaki said it was “extremely regrettable” that a large number of infections had occurred in a short time, adding that Okinawans were “shocked” by the news.

“I can’t help but have strong doubts about the U.S. military’s measures to prevent infections,” he said, adding that there were reports of personnel leaving base for beach parties and visits to night life districts around Independence Day on July 4.

Tamaki said he has asked U.S. forces to halt the arrival of troops rotating into the country and to boost anti-contagion measures.

It is unclear where the bases’ clusters of infections originated, with U.S. spokesman Maj. Ken Kunze saying an investigation was ongoing.

“We are also looking into reports of gatherings and directing individuals to quarantine… Leadership in Okinawa is working non-stop to curtail the spread,” he said.

Local media said there were concerns about incoming troops and their families who are being quarantined in local hotels off-base.

On its Facebook page for Pacific bases, the Marine Corps said it was prohibiting off-base activity for all installations across Okinawa, except essential needs such as medical appointments approved by a commanding officer.

“We are trying to limit as much contact (with local people) as we can, as we look to contact tracing of infected personnel,” a U.S. military spokesman said.

Excluding the bases, Okinawa’s infections stand at 148, with seven deaths, the prefecture’s website shows. Nationwide, Japan has recorded nearly 22,000 cases and 1,000 deaths.

As for the infections involving the Iwakuni base, the U.S. military was informed by the Japanese Foreign Ministry of the cases.

Those infected arrived at Iwakuni on Monday after taking coronavirus tests upon their arrival at Tokyo’s Haneda Airport, the base said, without disclosing their nationalities.

The Yamaguchi Prefectural Government said local health authorities and the base will work together to carry out an epidemiological investigation of the cases.

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