By Hiroaki Sunada
With the spread of the new coronavirus, the U.S. military bases in Japan have also seen cases. Although six virus cases among military personnel have been confirmed at the U.S. Naval Base in Yokosuka (Yokosuka City), American media outlets have reported that there are more than that, prompting criticism that the U.S. military is hiding information. In fact, however, the municipal governments hosting the bases are informed of cases on the bases in accordance with a Japan-U.S. Joint Committee memorandum. The Japanese side has chosen not to make the data public in accordance with a U.S. policy “not to announce the number of cases out of military security considerations.”
At the end of March, the U.S. Defense Department announced that they would not make public the number of coronavirus cases at military bases and within the troops due to operational concerns. U.S. Forces Japan (Fussa City, Tokyo) explained to the Kanagawa Shimbun: “To maintain operational readiness, the U.S. forces will not publicize the number of cases.”
However, public health centers in the host municipalities have been sharing information with the military hospitals on the U.S. bases, including the number of cases and whether the patient had had contact with people not on the base. This procedure was established under the Joint Committee memorandum, which was agreed upon after the epidemic of the new type of influenza.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs explained that, in response to the U.S. policy, it has asked municipal governments “not to make (information) public.” The Kanagawa prefectural government also receives reports from the public health centers, but the officials say that some information cannot be made public. The prefecture hopes that the central government will “collect the information and make available to the public whatever information it can.”
A Yokosuka civic group and others are objecting to this handling of the matter. “There are discrepancies between official announcements and some media reports. We are not confident that information exchange based on the memorandum is being conducted properly.” Experts have mixed opinions on the issue. Some express understanding for not making the information public, saying that “publicizing the number of coronavirus cases in the U.S. forces would negatively affect Japan’s security under the Japan-U.S. alliance.” Others say, however, that “Japan should request disclosure of information from the U.S. regardless of the U.S. Defense Department policy.”