61 US marines on Okinawa have virus

61 US marines on Okinawa have virus

Japanese officials demand answers as two bases locked down

US Marine Corps Pfc Fernando Luna Simental dons protective gear to begin screening incoming personnel in response to the increased threat of Covid-19 at Camp Foster on the Japanese island of Okinawa in April. (US Marine Corps photo by Cpl Kameron Herndon via Reuters)
US Marine Corps Pfc Fernando Luna Simental dons protective gear to begin screening incoming personnel in response to the increased threat of Covid-19 at Camp Foster on the Japanese island of Okinawa in April. (US Marine Corps photo by Cpl Kameron Herndon via Reuters)

TOKYO: Two US Marine bases on Okinawa have been put on lockdown by the military after 61 coronavirus cases were confirmed this week, the prefectural government said late Saturday.

The US forces told the Okinawa government that the cases were confirmed between Tuesday and Saturday. The outbreaks occurred at Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, which is at the centre of a relocation dispute, and Camp Hansen.

Local officials earlier said they could report only that a “few dozen” cases had been found because the US military had asked that the exact figure not be released.

Okinawa Governor Denny Tamaki said he was “shocked” by the development on the Japanese island that has reported only 148 cases of Covid-19 since the pandemic began earlier this year.

“We have strong doubt about measures (taken by the US troops) to prevent the spread of the virus,” he said at a news conference.

Lt Gen Stacy Clardy, commander of the III Marine Expeditionary Force and head of US forces in Okinawa, subsequently briefed the governor on the situation at the military facilities and confirmed the number of service personnel involved.

The Marine Corps said it “experienced two localised clusters of individuals who tested positive for the virus” and that all personnel who tested positive for Covid-19 were in isolation.

Tamaki said some American military personnel had held parties in downtown areas and beaches around July 4 to celebrate US Independence Day. He called on participants in any such events to go see a doctor if they feel unwell.

Personnel at Camp Hansen and Marine Corps Air Station Futenma have been put on “soft shelter-in-place” orders. Only essential personnel are allowed to come and go from the facilities while authorities work to mitigate the spread of the virus, the US military newspaper Stars and Stripes reported.

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 US base-related problems. Many Okinawans have long complained about pollution, noise and crime related to the bases.


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