A local governor in Japan has blasted the US military for failing to contain the spread of coronavirus in the country’s southernmost prefecture of Okinawa, which is home to several US bases.
“I’m outraged because the rise in the number of infected among US military personnel suggests that their management is not enough,” Denny Tamaki, Okinawa’s prefectural governor, said in a press conference Sunday.
Okinawa Prefecture reported 130 new Covid-19 cases on Monday — the highest single-day total since September 25 last year, a prefectural official told CNN.
Over the past week, the prefecture has averaged 17.37 new infections per 100,000 people, the worst ratio in the nation. The official said those numbers do not include infections among US military personnel in Okinawa.
Okinawa Prefecture confirmed its first Omicron variant case on December 17, 2021, and initiated free PCR tests for base employees and prefectural citizens shortly afterward, the official said.
As of January 3, 88 cases of the Omicron variant have been confirmed, and 112 suspected cases reported, the official said.
According to the Okinawa government data, a total of 3,699 US military personnel in Okinawa have tested positive with coronavirus as of Monday. US forces confirmed a record 235 new infections last Friday among personnel stationed in Okinawa prefecture, according to local government data.
Of those tested in Okinawa, approximately 47% were presumptive Omicron positives, US Forces Japan (USFJ) told CNN in an email.
The National Institute of Infectious Disease in Tokyo conducted genome analysis of Covid-19 cases among US military personnel in Okinawa’s Camp Hansen, and confirmed the Omicron variant was found there, according to a statement released Sunday by the Okinawa prefectural government.
However, the Okinawa prefectural government claims US authorities have not provided information on the exact number of Omicron infections.
Tamaki blamed US military personnel for spreading the Omicron variant to local communities, and renewed his call Sunday for US military authorities to enact strict measures to contain the virus.
“Many infected people are still confirmed every day in the US military. We believe it is important to stop the infection in the US military and for the citizens in the prefecture to avoid contact with them to curb the spread of the infection in the prefecture,” said Tamaki, the Okinawa governor, in the press conference.
For its part, USFJ said it is working to contain the outbreak.
“We take seriously our responsibilities to protect not only our personnel, but also the surrounding communities,” USFJ said. “We have placed all COVID-19 infected personnel into isolation and aggressive contact tracing has allowed us to place close contacts into quarantine.”
In response to the increased Covid-19 spread in Okinawa, Marine Forces Japan reinstituted mask mandates for everyone on-base regardless of vaccination status on December 23, according to a post on the Marine Corps Community Service website.
However, the mandate does not apply to those eating or actively exercising, including indoor cardio, organized athletics and sports.
USFJ said it requires three negative Covid-19 tests for those traveling to Japan and a 14-day “restriction of movement” upon arrival.
Last year, two US Marine bases in Okinawa — including Camp Hansen — were put into lockdown and restrictions imposed at other bases in the region, according to Kyodo News.
USFJ said it will continue to monitor and adjust Covid-19 mitigation measures in cooperation with Japanese government.