U.S. military bases in Japan must not be loopholes for containment measures at points of entry against COVID-19.
A cluster (group of infected people) has broken out at Camp Hansen, a U.S. military base in Okinawa Prefecture. The number of infected U.S. marines who arrived in Okinawa by air from the U.S. earlier this month has exceeded 220.
A Japanese employee who works at the base and others were confirmed to be infected with the Omicron variant.
The Japanese government prohibits foreigners from entering the country in principle. However, U.S. military personnel are exempt from immigration and quarantine in Japan under the Japan-U.S. Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), etc., and are allowed to go outside the base.
Despite the widespread anxiety among local residents, the U.S. military’s response has not shown any sense of urgency.
The Okinawa prefectural government has requested the U.S. military conduct a genome analysis to confirm whether the virus that infected the servicemen is the Omicron variant. However, the U.S. military declined to conduct the requested analysis because they “do not have the equipment.” The U.S. military even refused to cooperate with the prefectural government in providing the servicemen’s specimens for the reason of protecting personal information.
Yesterday, the U.S. military indicated its intention to agree to some of the tests requested by the Japanese government, but it maintains its policy of sending specimens to the U.S. for genome analysis.
Prompt action is essential to identify the virus in question and prevent it from spreading. A genome analysis should be carried out immediately with the cooperation of the prefectural government, while taking into account the protection of personal information.
The U.S. military explains that the infected servicemen are quarantined on base and strict behavioral restrictions are imposed on other members of the military.
In the midst of all these measures, a service member belonging to Camp Hansen was arrested outside the base on suspicion of driving under the influence of alcohol. The U.S. military’s explanation is not convincing.
Governor Tamaki Denny requested the U.S. military prohibit service members from leaving the base. Without the trust of the local community, the stable operation of the base will not be possible. U.S. forces must take the current situation very seriously, disclose information, and dispel Okinawan’s concerns.
The government should further urge the U.S. to implement thorough tests and behavioral restrictions to protect the lives and livelihoods of the Japanese people.
This is not just an Okinawan problem. There are U.S. military bases all over the country. The government has a responsibility to close this loophole as soon as possible and with a sense of urgency because this is a problem that affects all virus containment measures.