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SECURITY > Okinawa

Over 60 military community members test positive for COVID-19 on Okinawa bases  

  • July 12, 2020
  • , Asahi, Mainichi, Yomiuri, Nikkei
  • JMH Summary

Sunday’s Asahi and Mainichi gave prominent coverage to the announcement made by the Okinawa prefectural government on Saturday that it has been told by the U.S. military that a total of 45 new COVID-19 cases were confirmed at MCAS Futenma and Camp Hansen on the same day, bringing the total caseload to 61 over the past five days. NHK reported on Sunday that a member of the military community at Camp Kinser also tested positive on Sunday. Okinawa Governor Tamaki reportedly spoke by phone with Okinawa Area Coordinator Clardy on Saturday night, calling on him to close the two installations, allow the local government to disclose the number of cases, suspend the transfer of personnel from the U.S. to Okinawa, and establish a bilateral framework for discussions on the infection situation by their public health authorities. The top Marine in the southernmost prefecture explained that the two Marine facilities are now on lockdown and that he would not obstruct the local government’s release of the number of infected members. He also reportedly said the proposed launch of a dialogue venue is “possible.”   


“I was shocked by the notification. It’s like the arrival of a second wave,” Governor Tamaki reportedly said to the press. “It is extremely regrettable that such large number cases have been confirmed during a short period, especially at a time when our people are united in trying to prevent infection. We have no choice but to have strong doubts about disease prevention protocols.”  


According to Asahi, a large-scale Independence Day event involving a few thousand spectators was held around July 4 at an unspecified military base. A similar event involving several hundred participants, including Japanese, was also organized off base. Chatan Mayor Noguni said his municipality is taking maximum precautions while assuming that community transmission involving U.S. military members is already increasing. The dailies said although Americans are prohibited from entering Japan in principle on account of the pandemic, military personnel and other members of the military community are not subject to the ban under the SOFA.  


The papers also wrote that the U.S. military has been hesitant to release the details of the cases, such as their status and contact with other people ahead of testing for privacy reasons. The prefectural assembly reportedly adopted a unanimous resolution on Friday calling for the U.S. military to disclose information on the cases. While noting that several thousand service members arrive in Okinawa every summer, a local academic opined that the Okinawan people’s distrust of the U.S. military will increase if it withholds information on the infections. “That would be a detriment to building a relationship of trust between the U.S. and Japan,” said the professor. 


Yomiuri and Nikkei gave moderate coverage to the development. The Okinawa papers’ extensive coverage included Lt. Gen. Clardy’s remarks to the governor saying that the Marines will continue to have personnel arriving in Okinawa shelter in place at a commercial hotel in Chatan as a measure to prevent COVID-19 infection on the grounds that it is difficult to have all of them shelter on base due to space limitations. The Okinawa papers also highlighted concern and resentment among local officials and residents about what they referred to as a massive cluster infection within the U.S. military.  

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