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U.S. military bases importing COVID-19 into Japan, details kept secret

The return of the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier U.S.S. Ronald Reagan after a long-term naval operation is suspected to be a significant source of imported infection. | Sandy Huffaker / AP

OKINAWA, Japan—The Okinawa prefectural government on Nov. 30 announced that 72 coronavirus infection cases were newly confirmed among the U.S. forces stationed in the there. This is the largest number of cases in a single day, making the total number of cases among the U.S. military in Japan increase to 564.

The 72 U.S. military servicemen came to Japan from overseas facilities. They got positive results when they were tested for COVID-19 at the end of their 14-day quarantine period.

The prefectural government presented to Okinawans the U.S. military’s explanation that the 72 soldiers are under observation at isolation facilities on U.S. bases and thus have no contact with local residents and other people outside the bases. The U.S. military, however, has been hiding the location where the 72 are being quarantined.

The U.S. forces’ attitude toward this matter aroused concerns among municipalities near U.S. bases in Okinawa.

With the rapid spread of COVID-19 on U.S. bases in Okinawa and other prefectures, base-hosting municipalities have heightened their concerns.

Data compiled by the U.S. Forces Japan indicates that at the U.S. Yokota Air Base in Tokyo, the number of newly confirmed cases increased to 42 on Nov. 20 from 2 on Nov. 4. In reaction to this data, the liaison council of the Tokyo metropolitan government and surrounding municipalities on Nov. 20 urged the Yokota base and relevant authorities to take necessary measures, including a measure to prevent COVID-19 transmission outside the base.

The USFJ data also shows a surge in infections in the U.S. Yokosuka base in Kanagawa Prefecture and the U.S. Marine Corps Iwakuni base in Yamaguchi Prefecture. The major factor for this is considered to be the return of the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier U.S.S. Ronald Regan to Japan from its long-term naval operation. The Yokosuka base is the homeport for the ship, and the Iwakuni base is a hub of carrier-based aircraft units.

In Yokosuka City, there is increasing concern over the arrival of about 600 maintenance staff at the Yokosuka base from the U.S. mainland for the regular maintenance check-up of the nuclear-powered vessel.

Despite a coronavirus upsurge on U.S. bases across Japan, the USFJ headquarters on Nov. 20 stopped providing information on the infection situation on its website which used to be updated twice a week.

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