A U.S. Navy report on the coronavirus outbreak aboard the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt showed that commanding officers had considered individually isolating around 3,000 crew members, including more than 1,000 who later tested positive for the virus, at U.S. military bases in Japan.
The envisaged move surfaced in late March, when infections among the sailors were first confirmed. U.S. forces had prioritized plans to airlift crew members to Okinawa until deciding at the last minute to isolate them instead at private hotels in Guam, their next port of call.
The Okinawa plan was eventually abandoned due to concerns that moving crew to the southern island prefecture, which hosts about 70 percent of the total acreage exclusively used by U.S. military facilities in Japan, would complicate relations with the Japanese government, the report said.
According to the report, the first sailors aboard the Theodore Roosevelt tested positive for COVID-19 on March 24, after the ship had departed from Danang in Vietnam and was in the western Pacific Ocean.
While in the Pacific, the vessel was within the operational chain of command of the U.S. 7th Fleet based at Yokosuka, Kanagawa Prefecture, which began considering locations to individually isolate the crew.
It narrowed down the choices to U.S. bases in Okinawa and Atsugi, Kanagawa Prefecture, and private hotels in Guam.
During planning sessions with the Commanding General of III Marine Expeditionary Force at Camp Courtney, the 7th Fleet calculated that the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma and naval bases in Okinawa had approximately 3,000 rooms available, while Atsugi was also expected to have 400 to 600 rooms.
The United States had not been able to secure a sufficient number of rooms in Guam at the time.
On March 28, the 7th Fleet tasked Carrier Strike Group Nine and the Theodore Roosevelt to develop plans to proceed with airlifting crew members to Okinawa.
Although the group’s commanding officer had proposed the Guam option, the plan was rejected as Guam was itself in a public health emergency at the time, making it difficult for the United States to ask for help.
But the commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet was in the end not prepared to approve the 7th Fleet’s Okinawa plan based on the increased infection risks the 9-hour flight to the island posed, as well as potential complications with the government of Japan, according to the report.
On April 1, the governor of Guam formally accepted the Theodore Roosevelt’s crew, among which infections had surged to 1,248.
The report does not make clear whether discussions were held between the Japanese and U.S. governments, or if local officials in Guam were notified before the decision was made.
But, according to an official from the Foreign Ministry, Japan was not approached as the move “was still in the planning phase.”
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