Japan urges US forces to stay on base as COVID-19 cases surge

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Major Thomas R. Barger, spokesperson for US forces in Japan, said he could not comment on the request, but a team was closely monitoring cases and trends.

US forces came under fire after a spike in coronavirus cases in areas where they are based in large numbers, including Okinawa and Iwakuni, both in southern Japan.

On Thursday, Okinawa Governor Denny Tamaki asked the Japanese national government for permission from the prefecture to strengthen its anti-virus measures.

A daily record of 981 people testing positive for COVID-19 in Okinawa on Thursday. In December, there were no new cases on certain days.

“If we all work together, we hope the cases will decrease,” Tamaki told reporters.

Japan has never had a lockdown, but measures have been taken periodically to restrict people’s activities, such as asking stores and restaurants to close earlier or serve fewer people.

Tamaki blamed US soldiers for what he called the “alarming increase” in cases in Okinawa, which has been hit harder than the rest of Japan. He pledged financial assistance to companies that comply with the restrictions.

Yamaguchi Prefecture, where Iwakuni’s base is located, also sent a request to the national government to strengthen anti-virus measures after confirming a record 181 daily COVID cases. Officials in Yamaguchi Prefecture suspect the disease was spread by American soldiers and Japanese servicemen working in Iwakuni.

Cases are gradually increasing across Japan, including Tokyo, which reported 641 new cases on Thursday, up from 390 the day before. Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike has so far been reluctant to order restrictive measures.

Japan tightened border controls late last year, preventing travel from overseas except for residents and returning citizens. US soldiers are basically free to enter and move around Japan under a bilateral security agreement. The United States is Japan’s most important ally.

COVID-19 cases among U.S. forces in Japan now total 1,784, of which about a third are in Okinawa, according to the USFJ. Iwakuni reported a total of 529 cases.

This week, Japan has reported more than 2,000 cases per day. About 80% of the population has received two vaccines, but the boosters are only just beginning. Japan has so far recorded 18,300 coronavirus-related deaths.

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Yuri Kageyama is on Twitter https://twitter.com/yurikageyama



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