Okinawa: US military bases hit by Covid-19

The shutdown order, issued Saturday morning, bans nearly all movement off-base by tens of thousands of US military personnel on bases, unless approved by an officer with the rank of lieutenant colonel or higher.

The order includes the vital Kadena Air Base, which calls itself the center of US air power in the Pacific, and comes after US admirals last week promoted “extraordinary measures” that the Navy had taken. to restore US military readiness in the region. of worsening pandemic.

The Okinawa prefecture governor’s office said 62 cases of Covid-19 had been diagnosed among personnel from the United States Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, Camp Hansen and Camp Kinza as of Sunday.

Maj. Kenneth Kunze, a spokesman for the U.S. Marines in Japan, confirmed those numbers to CNN on Monday and said contacts on the island were being tracked to see if there were any more cases. Hundreds of Marines and their families were being evaluated, he said.

A statement from the US Air Force brig Gen. Joel Carey, commander of Kadena Air Base, said on Friday that “multiple new positive cases” had emerged in US military installations on the island, as well as three cases among the local population.

“The cases in the United States have been primarily Marines assigned to MCAS Futenma and Camp Hansen, and have been a mix of travel and those with origins that we have not yet been able to identify, indicating the potential for a resurgence of spread community “. statement posted on the base’s website, he said.

Kunze said any travel-related cases would have come through Kadena on a flight from Seattle, which also stops at US military bases in Yokota and Iwakuni, Japan. But as of Monday afternoon, Japan time, no cases of Covid-19 had been reported in Kadena.

Recent infections by Navy personnel are the first the service has seen in Okinawa since the virus outbreak earlier this year.

United States Marine Corps bases were placed under the Charlie Health Protection Condition, which, according to a Navy website, prohibits any off-base activity except traveling to and from bases to residences. Any other trip requires the approval of a senior officer.

U.S. Marines train at Camp Hansen, Japan in 2017.

U.S. Navy personnel and their families, including U.S. civilian contractors, may not visit any establishment off base, use public transportation, or even exercise outdoors under the Charlie condition. The staff also cannot take any leave or vacation time.

The Kadena Air Base Facebook page said it was also under Charlie Health Protection Status, but the Air Force restrictions were slightly less stringent than those issued by the Marines, allowing visits to supermarkets, pharmacies and grocery stores off base.

Despite the restrictions, Okinawa government officials expressed frustration with US forces.

In a statement, Gov. Denny Tamaki said that the United States should not allow troops to come to Okinawa from bases in the United States and elsewhere during the pandemic.
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The governor’s office said that US military personnel arriving on the island were housed in hotels in the island’s Chatan district, near Kadena Air Base because the facilities at the base were filled with US personnel in isolation from Covid. -19.

Kunze said Monday that all Covid-19 cases were isolated at the US Navy headquarters on the island.

In addition, all Marines, their families and US civilian workers arriving on the island face 16 days in quarantine, he said.

Tamaki told NHK News publicly that the increase in US cases comes after the island has worked well to prevent coronavirus cases.

“I am shocked. It is extremely unfortunate that a large number of cases occur in a short period of time at a time when all Okinawans are trying so hard to prevent the spread of the infection,” he said.

Okinawa had zero new cases between May 1 and July 7. The total number as of July 10 is 145 infections, which includes seven deaths.

NHK reported Saturday that three visitors to Okinawa from the Tokyo area had tested positive for Covid-19 since last Thursday.
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The Japanese capital and the country as a whole have seen increasing cases of Covid-19 in the past week. On Sunday, 411 new cases were reported across the country, 206 of them in Tokyo, on the fourth consecutive day more than 200 new cases had been seen.

The new cases among members of the US military occur when the virus is also spreading rapidly in the United States. More than half of the country’s 50 states face higher rates of new cases compared to a week ago.

One state, Florida, reported 15,299 new cases of Covid-19 on Saturday, the highest number of new cases in a single day by any state since the coronavirus pandemic began.

But in the Pacific, the U.S. military has said it has been successful in fighting the virus, leaving the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt crippled for weeks in the spring when the virus struck more than 1,000 members of its crew.
A US Navy P-8A Poseidon takes off on August 10, 2018 from Kadena Air Base, Japan.

Last week, however, two of its sister ships, the USS Ronald Reagan and the USS Nimitz, completed rare dual-carrier exercises in the South China Sea. The admirals in charge of those exercises said the Navy had taken “extraordinary measures” to achieve a high level of preparedness.

“All the equipment underway, everyone on board, must wear a mask,” Rear Admiral George Wikoff, commander of the Reagan aircraft carrier task force, said of the 12,000 personnel in the exercises.

The Navy has also spaced out meals, instituted social distancing and has brought on board specialists such as microbiologists and additional health personnel, Wikoff said.

But a worsening of the Covid-19 situation in Okinawa could delay America’s efforts in the Pacific.

Kadena calls itself Keystone of the Pacific. Nearly 18,000 Americans work at the base, which houses U.S. Air Force fighter jets, U.S. Navy reconnaissance aircraft, and is a major hub for the movement of U.S. aircraft throughout the U.S. region, including frequent operations over the South China Sea.

Ivan Watson and Rebecca Wright of CNN contributed to this report.


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