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Japan ‘extremely concerned’ by surge in COVID-19 cases in US bases

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
A view of a United States military base on Japan’s Okinawa Island (file photo)

Japan has expressed extreme concern about a rise in coronavirus cases among American military personnel in US bases in the Japanese prefecture of Okinawa.

“We’re extremely concerned,” Japanese Defense Minister Taro Kono said during a meeting with Okinawa Governor Denny Tamaki on Thursday. “We’ll deal with it.”

The comments came after the governor, who had flown to the Japanese capital of Tokyo to voice his island’s grievances, said Okinawa residents were “extremely anxious” about the spread of the infection at the US military bases.

A US Marine Corps base in Okinawa has confirmed a further 36 coronavirus infections, bringing the total number of cases in American military facilities on the island to 136.

The Okinawan government said on Wednesday that it had been informed by the US forces of the latest positive tests returned by personnel at Camp Hansen, which has now recorded 58 of the total infections.

In addition to Camp Hansen, 71 cases have been linked to the Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, with another five confirmed at Kadena Air Base, and one each at Camp McTureous and Camp Kinser.

Japan’s southern island prefecture, which has so far reported 148 coronavirus cases among the general population, said it would not be including the infections among the US military personnel in its total.

As of Wednesday, some restrictions had been imposed on the five affected US bases on Okinawa, with the two hit the hardest being under de-facto lockdowns.

Meanwhile, Okinawan officials have asked the Japanese government to demand that the US military take measures to stop the spread of the disease, provide full data on those infected, and seal off the Americans on the base to prevent contact with the local population.

Okinawa’s governor has also called for tougher prevention measures and more transparency by US forces.

But it was unclear what specific measures the Japanese government would take to deal with the situation. Kono, the Japanese defense minister, did not elaborate in his Thursday remarks.

Okinawa, where more than half of the about 50,000 American troops based in Japan are deployed, is the center of a dispute between the US forces and local residents. Okinawans have long complained about criminal activity, pollution, and damage to the natural environment caused by US soldiers based in Okinawa.

Japan has not seen the kind of explosive spread of the coronavirus disease that has killed thousands in other countries. But new cases, in Tokyo in particular, have stoked alarm, with the city raising its coronavirus alert to the highest level.

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