A sudden spike in on-base cases . . .
Japan’s government has asked U.S. military authorities to implement mandatory COVID-19 testing for all in-coming personnel following a spike in coronavirus cases at three installations in Okinawa. One hundred forty-three cases have been reported among military personnel in Okinawa, 92 of those since July 7. Under the Status of Forces Agreement, the military is exempt from Japan’s entry ban on nationals from 129 separate countries and regions. Also, unlike those entering on commercial flights, travellers on military flights are not subject to mandatory testing. The outbreak’s source is unclear, but some point to Independence Day festivities over the July 4 weekend. Excluding the bases, Okinawa has recorded 151 cases among its 1.45 million inhabitants, with none between May 1 and July 7.
An already complicated relationship . . .
While Okinawa comprises less than one per cent of Japan’s landmass, it houses over 60 per cent of U.S. military bases and over 50 per cent of U.S. military personnel in Japan. The U.S. military presence in Okinawa has long been contentious, due mainly to pollution, crime, and accidents. In a 2019 referendum, 72 per cent of Okinawan voters opposed the presence of the Futenma Marine Corps Air Station, where at least 73 people have tested positive in the past two weeks.
Attempts at a solution . . .
Japan’s Defense Minister Taro Kono indicated last week that U.S. forces are “considering” implementing the requested testing. U.S. Forces Japan has extended the Public Health Emergency until August 13, banning all military personnel in Japan from most public spaces. In Okinawa, non-essential off-base activity has been prohibited at all installations, and the two most affected bases – Futenma and Camp Hansen – are under lockdown. Okinawa’s prefectural government and Japan’s Ministry of Defense plan to open a specimen collection centre near several bases, and local authorities tested 200 Japanese nationals working on or near Camp Hansen over the weekend. Results are expected Tuesday.