U.S. forces in Japan did not test their personnel for COVID-19 prior to their departure from the United States, a move that goes against Tokyo’s request for American military personnel to follow the nation’s border control measures, Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno said Thursday.
A government source said Tokyo was “still checking” if COVID-19 testing was not conducted for military personnel stationed at all U.S. military bases in Japan before their arrival, adding that tests were not conducted for military personnel at U.S. Marine Corps’ Camp Hansen in Okinawa Prefecture. A total of 227 people at the base had been infected as of Thursday morning.
Matsuno’s comments came as the Japanese government on Wednesday urged the U.S. military to adhere to coronavirus testing and quarantine rules.
Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi said Wednesday that he had voiced “strong regret” to the commander of U.S. Forces Japan, Lt. Gen. Ricky Rupp, over anti-infection procedures for American military arrivals.
Japan’s borders are closed to almost all foreign nationals except for residents. Incoming travelers must get tested within 72 hours before departure and on arrival, then isolate for two weeks at home or in hotels.
Based on the Japan-U.S. Joint Committee agreement, the U.S. conducts quarantine procedures when U.S. soldiers and officers enter its military bases in Japan. For Camp Hansen arrivals, PCR testing was conducted only on the fifth day after their arrival in Japan.
However, Hayashi said the U.S. military was testing soldiers only three to five days after they landed, with newly arrived troops allowed to move freely inside their bases.
“These rules are not consistent with the Japanese rules,” Hayashi told reporters in Tokyo, saying he had been instructed by Prime Minister Fumio Kishida to voice his concern to Rupp.
It was unclear how many in the Okinawa cluster have the fast-spreading omicron virus variant, which accounted for nearly three-quarters of new U.S. cases in the past week.
While the American military was tightening its rules, Hayashi said he had demanded strict enforcement.
Rupp told Hayashi he took the situation at Camp Hansen seriously and promised to increase testing for those entering Japan and restrict their activities for 14 days after their arrival, according to the foreign minister.
There are around 20,000 U.S. Marines in Okinawa, along with thousands more troops from other American military services.
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