A major outbreak of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, has added a new dimension to contentious U.S.-Japan alliance politics in Okinawa. Following a major outbreak of the pandemic at U.S. Marine Corps facilities on the Japanese island, including at least 38 cases at Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, Governor Denny Tamaki of Okinawa demanded that Lt. Gen. H. Stacy Clardy, commander of III Marine Expeditionary Force, take more strident preventive measures to keep the outbreak from affecting the island’s civilian population.
The outbreak, which has also affected at least 23 Marines at Camp Hansen, has been ongoing since July 7. According to reports, the U.S. Marine Corps disclosed exact COVID-19 infection figures after demands from the Okinawa government.
On Saturday, Tamaki addressed the issue in a press conference. “Okinawans are shocked by what we were told,” Tamaki said. “It is extremely regrettable that the infections are rapidly spreading among U.S. personnel when we Okinawans are doing our utmost to contain the infections.”
“We now have strong doubts that the U.S. military has taken adequate disease prevention measures,” he added.
More than 50,000 U.S. troops are based in Japan, with about half in Okinawa — a strategically located Japanese island along the Ryukyu Chain in the East China Sea. The presence of U.S. forces in Okinawa has been a contentious matter in Japanese domestic politics, pitting governments in Tokyo against local politicians in Okinawa. The U.S. Marine Corps’ COVID-19 outbreaks stand to add additional stress to ongoing disputes over the U.S. military in Okinawa.
Responding to Tamaki’s concerns and growing Japanese public concern, in Okinawa and elsewhere, the U.S. Marine Corps took additional measures, updating its so-called Health Protection Condition, or HPCON, levels for its facilities in Okinawa. “In light of recent clusters of positive COVID-19 cases on Okinawa, Marine Forces Japan has implemented additional HPCON measures to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus,” the U.S. Marines Corps noted in a tweet. “These measures have been put into place to protect our forces, our families, and our local communities,” the statement added.
Though Japan has weathered the COVID-19 pandemic relatively well, the past week has brought renewed concern over growing daily confirmed case totals in the capital, Tokyo. Sunday marked the fourth consecutive day that Tokyo posted more than 200 new confirmed cases, bringing Japan’s total to more than 22,500 cases. After Tokyo, Osaka is the Japanese city with the most confirmed cases. Okinawa had posted 148 total confirmed cases by Sunday.