Japanese FM requests curfew for US military bases

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As Covid-19 cases, including those connected to US bases, were surging in Okinawa, Japanese Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi on Thursday requested the American bases in the country impose a curfew amid the rampant spread of the virus among military personnel.

According to the Foreign Ministry, Hayashi’s request was made by telephone to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, with the Foreign Minister reportedly telling the latter that further measures needed to be taken by Washington to prevent the virus from spreading at American military facilities in Japan and further into the community, reports Xinhua news agency.

The Japanese side has been irked by the US’ lax approach to administering its military personnel with Covid-19 tests before and after arriving in Japan, leading to a spike in cases and cluster infections at multiple American military bases here.

At the Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni located in Yamaguchi Prefecture, south of Hiroshima, 182 personnel were confirmed to be infected on Wednesday, official figures showed.

The mayor of Iwakuni said the cluster outbreak at the base was “fuelling the rapid spread of (the) Omicron (variant of the virus) in his city”.

“We’ve heard that the genome of the coronavirus from the base workers and those who tested positive at restaurants in the city is the same. It’s highly likely that the Omicron variant has spread from the base throughout the city,” Iwakuni Mayor Yoshihiko Fukuda was quoted as saying.

In Okinawa, where the vast majority of US bases are located in Japan, meanwhile, 623 new cases were reported on Wednesday, more than doubling its daily tally compared to the previous day.

This marked the first time the prefecture’s daily Covid-19 tally surpassed 600 in more than four months, according to the official figures.

Last month, what has been described as a “major cluster of infections” broke out at the US Marine Corps’ Camp Hansen in Okinawa, as was widely reported at the time, sparking concerns about the virus’ potential rapid spread from the base into mainstream Japanese society.

If the prefectural government’s request to the central government to declare a quasi-state of emergency is granted, local officials will be allowed to introduce more stringent antiviral measures.

Other US bases in Japan are also seeing significant Covid-19 cluster outbreaks and have likely been affected by new American military personnel arriving in Japan not being required to undergo Covid-19 testing until five or more days after entering Japan, according to Japan’s public broadcaster NHK.

“The US forces then revealed it did not require new personnel to be tested until at least five days after arriving in Japan,” NHK said.

Some 114 base-linked personnel have also tested positive for the virus recently, with Yokota Air Base in Tokyo seeing 57 personnel newly-infected, Camp Fuji in Shizuoka Prefecture reporting 41 new cases, while 16 new infections have been detected at Sasebo Navy base in Nagasaki Prefecture, according to the latest official figures.

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