US Bases on Okinawa Locked Down by Coronavirus

Children pray in front of the “Peace of Fire” at the Peace Memorial Park in Itoman, Okinawa, Japan, on June 23. Okinawan people find it unacceptable that their land is still occupied by a heavy U.S. military presence even 75 years after World War II. They have asked the central government to do more to reduce their burden, and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government repeatedly say it is mindful of their feelings, but the changes are slow to come. (Koji Harada/Kyodo News via AP)

TOKYO (AFP) — Two U.S. Marine bases in Okinawa have been put into lockdown after dozens of coronavirus infections, with local officials criticizing the U.S. military’s containment efforts.

Additional restrictions are also in place at the seven other Marine bases in the region after the spike in cases, a spokesman said.

There are tens of thousands of U.S. servicemen stationed on the southern Japanese island, which has recorded roughly 150 civilian Covid-19 infections.

Government spokesman Yoshihide Suga said Monday that 63 cases have been detected in recent days among U.S. forces, most of them at U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma and Camp Hansen.

The Okinawa prefectural government said later in the day they had confirmed 32 more cases at Futenma, bringing the total to 95. 

In response to the outbreak, “enhanced Okinawa-wide protective measures” were announced for all nine Marine Corps bases in the region, spokesman Major Ken Kunze said.

Those measures include closing nonessential facilities on base, banning off-base activities and encouraging telework.

“Additional measures are in place for Camp Hansen and MCAS Futenma to restrict people from entering and leaving those facilities,” Kunze said.

There are approximately 20,000 U.S. Marines in Okinawa, along with thousands more troops from other U.S. military services.

Their presence on the island is a longstanding sore spot, with many in the region saying Okinawa bears a disproportionate share of the burden of hosting U.S. forces.

The spike in infections has created tensions with local officials, including Okinawa Governor Denny Tamaki, who said Saturday he was “shocked” by the number of cases.

“I can’t help but feel serious doubts about U.S. measures against infections,” he told reporters.

Tamaki said he has asked U.S. forces to halt the arrival of troops rotating into the country and to boost anticontagion measures.

It is unclear where the bases’ clusters of infections originated, though Kunze said an investigation was being conducted.

“We are also looking into reports of gatherings and directing individuals to quarantine. … Leadership in Okinawa is working nonstop to curtail the spread,” he said.

Local media said there were concerns about incoming troops and their families who are being quarantined in hotels off base.

An Okinawa government official said the prefecture would ask the central government and U.S. forces to share information about cases among the military more quickly.

The prefecture will also ask for incoming troops and their families to observe their arrival quarantine on base, they said.

© Agence France-Presse

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