Massive Covid-19 Outbreak at U.S. Bases in Okinawa

BREAKS OKINAWA’S 68 DAY STREAK WITHOUT AN INFECTION.

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View from Okinaway Overhead

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Update 7/14/20 10:42pm: 130 workers at bars and nightclubs in Chatan tested negative for Covid-19, providing strong evidence that the outbreak at U.S. bases is linked to the Forth of July parties, not bars and nightclubs as some media outlets have suggested.

Update 7/14/20 10:07pm: The military personnel and staff on the bases have been given very little information about the infection. They are extremely frustrated and concerned.

Update 7/14/20 9:29pm: Now 100 confirmed infections at U.S. bases in Okinawa: Futenma (71), Camp Hansen (22), Kadena (5), Camp Kinser (1)

Update 7/14/20 9:57pm: The central Japanese government was given information by the U.S. about the infections and that a Hilton hotel was being used as a quarantine location, but did not release these details to the Okinawan prefectural government.

Update 7/14/20 8:58pm: The U.S. military did not notify the local Okinawan government that they rented hotels off-base for military personnel under quarantine. Locals fear that it puts those living in these neighborhoods at risk.

Update 7/14/20 8:52pm: Despite having 23 cases, some Okinawan employees are still ordered to come into work at Camp Hansen. No details about the infection were provided to the employees. “It’s like jumping into a fire,” one person stated.

Update 7/14/20 10:35am: Now 99 infections confirmed at Futenma Air Station (71), Camp Hansen (23), Kadena Air Base (1), and Camp Kinser (1).

Update 7/14/20 12:50am: A person at Kadena Air Base tested positive and is currently in isolation. The military is conducting contact tracing, and initial tracing shows no spread to the local community.

Update 7/13/20 – Thirty-two more infections have been found at the Futenma base, bringing the total to 95 military personnel infections.

Update 7/13/20 – Thirty-two more infections have been found at the Futenma base, bringing the total to 95 military personnel infections.

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by Sherry Schafer

Okinawa prefecture now has 61 confirmed cases of Covid-19 infections following a very large Fourth of July BBQ party attended by U.S. military personnel in Okinawa. Hundreds of military personnel, many of whom did not wear a mask, attended this unauthorized party hosted off-base by a private organizer, according to sources. Thirty-eight of the cases are at the US Marine Corps Futenma Air Station and 23 at Camp Hansen. The U.S. military has declined to release exact numbers, however these cases were reported to the Okinawan government by people connected to the bases. Unlike other prefectures in Japan, Okinawa had been infection-free since April 30th, making it 68 days without new infections until now.

According to a man who works on one of the bases and has asked to be anonymous, this BBQ party had over 1000 people in attendance. Although Japan has placed heavy restrictions on American citizens entering the country, U.S. marines have been allowed to enter Japan from the U.S. under a PCS, which is a “permanent change in station”. The man also revealed that even though the marines who entered Japan were asked to quarantine in their rooms for two weeks, there was no enforcement of this policy. As a result, some of the people who were required to quarantine attended this BBQ party.

In response to this Covid-19 outbreak, governor of Okinawa Denny Tamaki issued a statement on Saturday calling on the U.S. to release more information regarding the exact number of infected people and other details related to the spread of the virus at the camps. He also demanded the closure of the Futenma and Hansen bases and for the U.S. to take stronger measures in preventing the spread. “I was shocked that a large number of military personnel got infected in such a short period of time,” Governor Tamaki stated.

Following the governor’s press conference, the U.S. closed the Futenma and Hansen bases, however according to the prefectural government, cases have also been seen at the Kadena Air Base and Camp McTureous. Although not officially disclosed by the military, according to a source, Camp McTureous is also now under lockdown. Moreover, Governor Tamaki stated that besides the large Fourth of July BBQ party, some military personnel held smaller celebrations in other parts of Okinawa, such as in the downtown areas and on the beaches, putting the local population at risk.

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An Okinawan woman during war time occupation by US forces in Okinawa, a land currently colonized by the Japanese.

Okinawa, which was an independent country for thousands of years prior to annexation by Japan in 1879, was the site of one of the deadliest battles during WWII, the Battle of Okinawa, in which a quarter of the Okinawan population, mostly civilians, were killed. After the war, Okinawa came to be under the control of the U.S. government from 1945 to 1972. Although Okinawa was returned to being under Japanese control, it still bears the legacy of the war, being the site of a number of U.S. bases. Okinawans have long been opposed to the presence of the bases, due to a number of issues, such as unbearable noise, safety concerns from the military equipment, crime committed by U.S. soldiers, and tremendous destruction to the local environment, which is one of the most biodiverse places in the world, and also the home to a number of endangered species. In addition, Okinawa Prefecture, which makes up only 0.6% of land mass in Japan, disproportionately hosts a staggering 70% of the U.S. bases in Japan and about half of the U.S. military personnel. Okinawans argue that this places a huge burden on them. In a referendum in February 2019, a strong majority of Okinawans opposed the construction of a new U.S. base at Henoko, however the Japanese government has ignored this vote and is currently continuing to construct this base despite daily protests.

In addition to the base-related infections, it was confirmed on Saturday that two tourists visiting Okinawa from Saitama prefecture were also infected.

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