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Dozens of COVID-19 infections detected at US military facilities in Okinawa, governor says

U. S. Army Garrison Okinawa Commander, Lt. Col. Zachary B. Hohn, discusses with Okinawa Governor, Denny Tamaki new construction plans on Torii Station, Okinawa, as part of the consolidation and relocation project Japan, Jan. 31, 2019. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Nicole Rogge)

Dozens of COVID-19 cases have been detected at U.S. military bases in Okinawa Prefecture, Gov. Denny Tamaki said Saturday, with the military later confirming two cluster infections.

Tamaki said that he had received a report from the U.S. side that “a large number” of American military personnel had been infected with the novel coronavirus, though the military did not disclose an exact figure.

Local media reported that the number of infections was likely to top 60 and that several facilities were involved, including Marine Corps Air Station Futenma and Camp Hansen. NHK meanwhile said upwards of 50 cases had been found, citing unidentified sources.

“I was shocked by the content of the report. It is extremely regrettable that such a large number of cases have occurred in such a short period of time,” Tamaki said at a televised news conference.

“I can’t help but have doubts about infection prevention measures (taken by the U.S. military),” he added.

Later Saturday, U.S. Marine Corps Installations Pacific said in a statement that it had confirmed “two localized clusters of individuals who tested positive for the virus,” adding that all personnel who had tested positive for the virus were in isolation.

“Cleaning teams have been dispatched and thorough contact tracing is ongoing to identify and isolate those who may have come in contact with infected personnel,” the statement said. “Anyone on or off base identified as having been in contact with an infected or suspected infected individual will be notified.”

On Tuesday and Thursday, the U.S. Marines said in statements that “several” infections had been confirmed at the Futenma base and Camp Butler, a collection of several facilities in the prefecture.

At his news conference, Tamaki said he was requesting that the U.S. side publicly announce the number of infected and set up a joint meeting with the prefectural government over the issue.

In March, the Pentagon ordered military bases and commanders to halt the reporting of exact numbers of new cases to the media, citing operational security concerns.

The news comes amid a handful of other COVID-19 cases reported at U.S. bases across Japan, including one case at Misawa Air Base in Aomori Prefecture announced Friday and several other cases at Naval Air Facility Atsugi in Kanagawa Prefecture that were announced Thursday. No figure was given for the number of cases at the Atsugi base, but the commanding officer for the facility said that the infected were receiving “appropriate medical care” and that all close contacts for these confirmed cases had been isolated and tested.

Also Friday, U.S. Forces Japan again extended a nationwide so-called Public Health Emergency over the coronavirus pandemic. The emergency had been due to end on July 14 but will now run through Aug. 13. The declaration was first issued on April 15, after an initial order covering only the Kanto region.


© 2020 the Japan Times