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Japanese governor demands U.S. military meeting after coronavirus outbreak at Okinawa bases

"We cannot help but hold strong concern towards anti-infection measures implemented by the U.S. military," Governor Denny Tamaki said.
Image: Camp Hansen
Military personnel pass the front of the U.S. Marine Corps' Camp Hansen gate in Okinawa, Japan, in June 2018. Richard Atrero de Guzman / NurPhoto via Getty Images file

TOKYO — A Japanese governor has demanded an explanation after dozens of U.S. Marines at two bases on the southern island of Okinawa were infected with the coronavirus.

"We find it extremely regrettable," Okinawa's Governor Denny Tamaki told a news conference Saturday. "We cannot help but hold strong concern towards anti-infection measures implemented by the U.S. military."

Governor Tamaki could only say that a "few dozen" virus cases had been found, because the U.S. military had not disclosed the exact figures, he said, before calling for an immediate phone conference with U.S. military officials to discuss the number of infections and what anti-prevention measures were being taken.

"We have also received reports that people linked to the U.S. military have ventured out into the downtown area or participated in beach parties before and after the July 4th celebrations," Tamaki added, urging those who had attended such gatherings to call a hotline number to be tracked and traced.

The coronavirus outbreaks occurred at Marine Corps. Air Station Futenma and Camp Hansen, Tamaki said.

The Japanese central government has yet to comment.

Okinawa is home to more than half of about 50,000 American troops based in Japan under a bilateral security pact, and the residents are sensitive to U.S. base-related problems. Many Okinawans have long complained about pollution and noise related to U.S. bases.

The Marine Corps Installations Pacific said in a statement online on Saturday that there had been "two localized clusters of individuals who tested positive for the virus," but did not specify exact numbers.

"All personnel who tested positive for COVID-19 are in isolation," the statement said, adding that cleaning teams had been dispatched and contact tracing was underway.

Local commanders have additionally initiated "soft shelter-in-place" orders until further notice at Camp Hansen and Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, the statement added. This will "limit base access and operations to essential personnel," and allow staff to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

The news follows an outbreak earlier this week of an unspecified number of people at Camp Butler, also in Okinawa.

Japan has seen a spike in coronavirus cases this week after managing to keep the increase in new cases to double digits through much of May and June.

Okinawa has about 150 cases of the coronavirus. In all, Japan has about 21,000 cases and just under 1,000 deaths, according toJohns Hopkins university data.

Arata Yamamoto reported from Tokyo and Adela Suliman from London.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.