Japan is furious at the U.S. after coronavirus outbreak at Marine bases in Okinawa


Japanese authorities have demanded answers from the U.S. after a large scale COVID-19 outbreak among U.S. Marines stationed in Japan’s southern prefecture of Okinawa. The U.S. military officials told the two bases have since been put in lockdown.

In recent days, 61 U.S. Marines have been infected with the virus, spread across two bases in the archipelago — which has long been a US military stronghold in the eastern Pacific.

At the Futenma Marine air station, 38 of the reported cases are. Another 23 occurred at Camp Hansen, a base that is home to around 6,000 U.S. Marines.

It was previously unknown exactly how many U.S. service personnel had contracted COVID-19, but the figures were released publicly after significant pressure on U.S. authorities by Tamaki.

Previously, the U.S. Marine Corps had vaguely referred to two “localized clusters” of infections, without giving a precise number of cases.

“After months with no confirmed COVID-19 infections on Okinawa, this week the Marine Corps experienced two localized clusters of individuals who tested positive for the virus,” a post on the official Marine Corps Installations Pacific Facebook page said.

All those infected are in isolation, the page added.

Okinawa prefecture has reported 145 cases of the virus with seven deaths.

The cluster of islands is home to 26,000 U.S. service personnel.

News of the outbreak among Marines comes as back home the US battles record or near-record numbers of new cases of the virus virtually every day and remains the pandemic’s global center.

Okinawa’s connection to the US military stems from the 1945-Allied invasion of the area in the final months of the Second World War. After an invasion was launched in April 1945, more than 100,000 people were killed during nearly two months of fighting on Okinawa Island, the prefecture’s largest island.

Okinawa is home to more than half of about 50,000 American troops based in Japan under a bilateral security pact, and the residents are sensitive to U.S. base-related problems. Many Okinawans have long complained about pollution, noise and crime.

Okinawans also oppose a planned relocation of Futenma Air Base from the current site in a densely populated area in the south to a less populated area on the east coast.

Denny Tamaki, the governor of Okinawa, has demanded a top U.S. military commander take tougher prevention measures and more transparency hours after officials were told about the coronavirus cases.

Denny Tamaki, in telephone talks late Saturday with Lt. Gen. H. Stacy Clardy, commander of III Marine Expeditionary Force, demanded the U.S military increase disease prevention measures to maximum levels, stop sending personnel from the mainland U.S. to Okinawa and seal the bases, as well as provide more transparency.

“Okinawans are shocked by what we were told (by the U.S. military),” Tamaki told a news conference Saturday. “It is extremely regrettable that the infections are rapidly spreading among U.S. personnel when we Okinawans are doing our utmost to contain the infections.”

“We now have strong doubts that the U.S. military has taken adequate disease prevention measures,” he added.

“It is extremely regrettable that the infections are rapidly spreading among U.S. personnel when we Okinawans are doing our utmost to contain the infections,” Okinawa’s governor, Denny Tamaki, said at a press conference.

He has demanded an explanation after dozens of U.S. Marines were infected with the coronavirus.

Tamaki is half American, being born to a father in the U.S. military and a Japanese mother. He is the first American-Asian to take a seat in the Japanese House of Representatives.

Tamaki said he wants more talks with the U.S. military.

Okinawan officials also asked the Japanese government to pressure the U.S. side to provide details including the number of cases, seal off Futenma and Camp Hansen, and step up preventive measures.

Adding to their concern is quarantining of an unidentified number of U.S. service members arriving from the mainland U.S. for ongoing staff rotations at an off-base hotel due to shortage of space on base, officials said.

Okinawa has had about 150 cases of the coronavirus. In all, Japan has had about 21,000 cases and 1,000 deaths, with Tokyo reporting more than 200 new cases for a third straight day Saturday.

He has called for an immediate phone conference with U.S. military officials to discuss the number of infections and what anti-prevention measures were being taken.

“We have also received reports that people linked to the U.S. military have ventured out into the downtown area or participated in beach parties before and after the July 4th celebrations,” Tamaki added, urging those who had attended such gatherings to call a hotline number to be tracked and traced.

The Japanese central government is yet to comment.

The news follows an outbreak earlier this week of an unspecified number of people at Camp Butler, also in Okinawa.

Japan has seen a spike in coronavirus cases this week after managing to keep the increase in new cases to double digits through much of May and June.

Additional restrictions are also in place at the seven other Marine bases in the region after the spike in cases.

Those measures include closing non-essential facilities on-base, banning off-base activities and encouraging telework.



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