Two US bases on Okinawa locked down over virus spike

Japan has recorded nearly 22,000 cases and 1,000 deaths. PHOTO: REUTERS

TOKYO (AFP, REUTERS) - Two US Marine bases in Japan's Okinawa have been put into lockdown after dozens of coronavirus infections, with local officials criticising the American military's containment efforts.

There are tens of thousands of US servicemen stationed on the southern Japanese island, which has recorded 148 civilian Covid-19 infections, with seven deaths.

Nationwide, Japan has recorded nearly 22,000 cases and 1,000 deaths.

Sixty-two cases have been detected in recent days in US forces, most of them at US Marine Corps Air Station Futenma and Camp Hansen.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said Monday (July 13) that Japan and the US are sharing information about the outbreak.

"We will cooperate appropriately on this matter," he told a regular news briefing.

"Japan and the United States are sharing information about the activity history of the infected military individuals."

In response to the outbreak, almost all off-base travel was halted from Sunday, according to guidelines posted on the Marine Corps Installation Pacific Facebook page.

Marine Corps service members, dependents, and civilians can move freely on the base but require permission to leave, including for medical appointments.

"Those orders are in place until further notice and limit base access and operations to essential personnel," the force said in a separate post.

The post did not specify which bases were affected and US military officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

An Okinawa official said the prefecture had been informed that the order applied to only Futenma and Camp Hansen.

He added that the number of forces on the bases is not disclosed for "security reasons."

US military presence on the island is a longstanding sore spot, with many in the region arguing they bear a disproportionate share of the burden of hosting American forces.

The spike in infections has created tensions with local officials, including Okinawa Governor Denny Tamaki.

On Saturday, Mr Tamaki said he was "shocked" by the number of cases on the bases.

"I can't help but feel serious doubts about US measures against infections," he told reporters, as he spoke about reports of personnel leaving base for beach parties and visits to night life districts around Independence Day on July 4.

Mr Tamaki said he has asked US forces to halt the arrival of troops rotating into the country and to boost anti-infection measures.

It is unclear where the bases' clusters of infections originated, but local media said there were concerns about incoming troops and their families who are being quarantined in local hotels off-base.

An Okinawa government official said the prefecture would ask for incoming troops and their families to observe their arrival quarantine on-base, they said.

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