Annoyed Japan to discuss jump in virus cases at US military bases

Aerial shot of US Marine Air Station Futenma in Ginowan, Okinawa. Okinawans want the Marines to leave the area. (AP pic)

TOKYO: Japan and the US are sharing information about coronavirus infections at US military bases after an outbreak provoked ire in the southernmost prefecture of Okinawa, a top Japanese official said on Monday.

Okinawa confirmed a total of 62 individuals – 39 at Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, 22 at Camp Hansen and one at Camp Kinser – had tested positive for the virus between Sunday and July 7.

“We will cooperate appropriately on this matter,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a regular news briefing.

“Japan and the US are sharing information about the activity history of the infected military individuals.”

Okinawa is host to the bulk of US military forces in Japan, whose alliance with Washington is central to its security.

But many Okinawans associate the bases with problems from crime to accidents and want the Marines to reduce their presence or leave the area altogether.

At the weekend, Okinawa Governor Denny Tamaki said it was “extremely regrettable” that a large number of infections had occurred in a short time, adding that Okinawans were “shocked” by the news.

“I can’t help but have strong doubts about the US military’s measures to prevent infections,” he said, adding that there were reports of personnel leaving the base for beach parties and visits to nightlife districts around Independence Day on July 4.

On its Facebook page for Pacific bases, the Marine Corps said it was prohibiting off-base activity for all installations across Okinawa, except essential needs such as medical appointments approved by a commanding officer.

“We are trying to limit as much contact (with local people) as we can, as we look to contact tracing of infected personnel,” a US military spokesman said.

Excluding the bases, Okinawa’s infections stand at 148, with seven deaths, the prefecture’s website shows.

Nationwide, Japan has recorded nearly 22,000 cases and 1,000 deaths.