Friday’s Asahi reported on the COVID-19 cluster infection at Camp Hansen, emphasizing that since personnel from overseas can fly direct to Okinawa without adhering to Japan’s strict COVID-19 infection prevention protocols at ports of entry under the SOFA, the U.S. bases have effectively become a “loophole” in Japan’s effort to stave off the Omicron variant. The Okinawa prefectural government reportedly suspects that the new variant has already been brought into the island prefecture by service members from the U.S. mainland as they’ve been allowed to move around freely on base even during the quarantine period and did not wear masks after arriving at the installation. As the U.S. military does not have the capacity to check whether those who test positive for the virus are infected with the Omicron strain, the paper said the U.S. procedures are “out of sync” with Prime Minister Kishida’s pledge that “all COVID-19 patients in Japan will be tested to see whether they are infected with the latest strain.” Local authorities are reportedly afraid that community transmission originating from the U.S. facility has already begun to engulf the island prefecture. Sunday’s Mainichi ran a similar article.
In a related development, Saturday’s Yomiuri and Sankei highlighted the disclosure by Foreign Minister Hayashi on Friday that the U.S. military had not conducted PCR tests for Japan-bound personnel ahead of their departure since Sept. 3 following a guideline issued by the Pentagon that allegedly concluded that such testing was unnecessary because of the rapid rollout of vaccines for service members. “The two nations will strengthen their coordination to ensure that U.S. infection prevention measures are in sync with Japanese ones,” Hayashi was quoted as saying. Prime Minister Kishida reportedly complained about the absence of pre-departure testing on the part of the U.S. military by telling the press on Friday: “I want the U.S. military to deal with the matter appropriately and without fail.” According to the papers, the U.S. military reinstated such testing for Japan-bound personnel following the cluster infection at Camp Hansen.