Japanese officials "shocked" by COVID outbreak at U.S. military bases

Japanese officials "shocked" by COVID outbreak at U.S. military bases

Tokyo — Officials in Okinawa on Monday said at least 94 U.S. service members at bases on the Japanese island have tested positive for the new coronavirus, raising long-standing tension between the local population and the American military. The surge represents the biggest number of cases the U.S. military has reported in Asia since the COVID-19 pandemic started, and local officials are skeptical that U.S. virus containment policies are sufficient.

More than half of the roughly 50,000 U.S. troops in Japan are based in Okinawa. Three U.S. bases in Okinawa have confirmed infections: U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, Camp Hansen and Camp Kinser, stretching along a 25-mile swath on the island's southern half.


Local reports say Fourth of July parties held both on and off the bases — attended by hundreds if not thousands of personnel and employees — are at the root of the new outbreak.

A lockdown is now in effect and efforts are underway to track down people who joined the celebrations for testing, and to trace any Japanese citizens who were in close contact with those people and may also be infected.


FILE PHOTO: U.S. Marine Corps MV-22 Osprey aircrafts are seen at the U.S. Marine Corps' Futenma Air Station in Ginowan on Japan's southernmost island of Okinawa U.S. Marine Corps MV-22 Osprey aircraft are seen at the U.S. Marine Corps' Futenma Air Station in Ginowan, on Japan's southernmost island of Okinawa, March 24, 2018. ISSEI KATO/REUTERS

Okinawa Governor Denny Tamaki expressed anger over the weekend, saying he was "shocked" by the size of the outbreak and had "concern that a second wave has hit."


He also cast doubt on whether the U.S. was doing enough to stop the spread of the deadly disease on the island.

"I can't help but feel serious doubts about U.S. measures against infections," he told reporters.


Personnel movements have been restricted and service members and their families have been banned from eating in restaurants in town and from patronizing non-essential businesses.


Governor Tamaki, the son of an American father and Okinawan mother, has also demanded the U.S. military raise disease prevention measures to their maximum levels, suspend sending service members to Okinawa from the U.S., and increase transparency with Okinawa prefecture officials about measures currently in place.


Those officials say the U.S. has not revealed details about the people already infected.  

Okinawans insist they're not anti-American, b... 03:27

The surge in coronavirus cases in Okinawa is only worsening tension between the U.S. military and the people of the island — a history marred by crimes that ranging from assault, rape and murder, which have fuelled anti-U.S. sentiments on the island.

Beyond Japan, U.S. Forces Korea confirmed on Monday 11 new cases among American personnel based in South Korea — all of them recently imported from the United States.