Three U.S. military bases in Japan are in lockdown after becoming COVID-19 hotspots, the Japan Times reports. And the country that’s hosting the Americans is upset with the news.
According to the New York Times, the U.S. Marine Corps has identified 94 COVID-19 cases at two bases in Okinawa. Reuters reported that 39 were identified at Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, 22 at Camp Hansen, and one at Camp Kinser. Later on Monday, TV Asahi confirmed 32 more cases at Futenma.
In contrast, the New York Times said Japan’s military has reported just 14 cases.
Marine Corps Installations Pacific released a statement on July 11 confirming the cases and alerting all personnel that local commanders had initiated a “soft shelter-in-place” until further notice.
“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,” the statement said. “All personnel who tested positive for COVID-19 are in isolation.”
The Japan Times reported Gov. Denny Tamaki said at a news conference that he was “shocked” about the discovered cases. He pointed out that American soldiers had hosted parties downtown and at the beach to celebrate the Fourth of July holiday.
“We have strong doubts about measures (taken by the U.S. troops) to prevent the spread of the virus,” he said.
In a phone call with the Marine Expeditionary Force, Tamaki asked the U.S military bases in Japan to increase disease prevention measures to maximum levels, to stop sending personnel from the mainland to Okinawa, and to seal the bases, according to Time.
Tomonari Kiyuna, a worker at a noodle shop in Okinawa frequented by many American soldiers, told the New York Times that the outbreak scared him.
“We’re very careful, wearing masks, washing hands, and sanitizing,” Mr. Kiyuna said. “I want them to disclose the information. They are Americans but they are staying in Okinawa, Japan. Okinawans or the Japanese people have the right to know.”
The outbreak appears to have added fuel to an already present level of discontent felt by locals in Okinawa about the military presence. NBC News reported that locals complain about pollution and noise related to U.S. bases and have called for a decline in the prefecture’s American military.
Okinawa, a prefecture of Japan and a small island, has seen just 148 COVID-19 cases and seven deaths (excluding the Marine Corp infections). Experts applauded Japan’s response to COVID-19 in May because the country has seen a little more than 22,000 positive cases and 1,000 deaths despite having one of the world’s oldest populations.