Information on coronavirus infections at U.S. bases in Japan is basically not being released to the public despite calls from the communities hosting them to disclose such data.
Some 50,000 U.S. troops and about as many family members reside in Japan.
The U.S. military has allowed the number of infected at bases in Okinawa Prefecture, which reached 143 as of Saturday, to be announced as an exception. But information on the COVID-19 situation at other bases in Japan has been kept secret.
Americans, like other foreign residents, have been denied entry under an effort by the government to prevent the virus from entering.
But U.S. troops are an exception under Article 9 of the Japan-U.S. status of forces agreement, which says, “Members of the United States armed forces shall be exempt from Japanese passport and visa laws and regulations.” Their family members are also allowed to enter Japan under a separate bilateral agreement.
In late March, the U.S. Defense Department set out a policy of not announcing the number of infected military personnel at bases around the world for security reasons, noting that such disclosures would affect troop operations.
If U.S. troops at bases in Japan are confirmed to be infected with the coronavirus, the U.S. military will provide the information to the Defense Ministry and related local public health centers. But the information will not be disclosed unless consent is given by the military, according to the ministry.
Earlier this month, U.S. personnel who arrived at the Misawa Air Base in Aomori Prefecture on a flight chartered by the U.S. government were confirmed to be infected. But details, such as the number of people involved, were not revealed.
An infection has also been confirmed at Naval Air Facility Atsugi in Kanagawa Prefecture, but the details on this case are also unknown.
After cluster infections hit U.S. bases in Okinawa, Gov. Denny Tamaki held phone talks with Lt. Gen. Stacy Clardy, head of U.S. forces in Okinawa, on July 11.
After Clardy confirmed that the U.S. military would not block Okinawa from unveiling any related information, the prefectural government announced the number of infected.
An association of governors in prefectures hosting U.S. bases has urged the government to prod the U.S. military to actively announce information on the situation with infections at its bases and measures it is taking.
But Defense Minister Taro Kono told a news conference that information, including on total infections at U.S. bases across Japan, has been withheld from the standpoint of maintaining America’s rapid response capability.
“We have no plans to release such information, other than in exceptional cases like the one in Okinawa,” he added.
In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.
Your news needs your support
Since the early stages of the COVID-19 crisis, The Japan Times has been providing free access to crucial news on the impact of the novel coronavirus as well as practical information about how to cope with the pandemic. Please consider subscribing today so we can continue offering you up-to-date, in-depth news about Japan.