Japan Wants U.S. Bases to Restrict Troops as Military COVID Cases Explode

The Japanese government on Thursday voiced its displeasure at the way COVID cases are spreading across U.S. military bases throughout the country.

In a call with Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Japan's Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi "strongly urged" the United States to strengthen public health measures in military installations to help curb the spread of infections, according to a readout from Tokyo. The implementation of curfews also was suggested as a way to address the concerns of local Japanese residents.

Japan's more than 4,000 new cases on Thursday were its highest number since its previous peak in August and September last year. Some fear community transmission, especially of the Omicron variant, could be worsened by the influx of American troops returning to Japan after the holiday period.

As of January 6, U.S. Forces Japan had 1,784 active cases at 18 bases. A USFJ statement after the Blinken-Hayashi call said it would be raising its health protection condition from Alpha to Bravo for all military bases Japan-wide.

The measures include the return of masks in public, whether on or off bases, as well as requiring three negative COVID tests upon traveling to Japan: prior to departure, on arrival and before leaving quarantine.

"Additionally, each installation may implement further mitigation efforts based on its own COVID-19 conditions," USFJ said.

Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, in Yamaguchi prefecture, is among those to have barred members from overnight stays in local communities. The air base has the most active cases and announced on Tuesday that it would "turtle up" to suppress the spread of infections.

In Japan's southwestern Okinawa prefecture—home to more than half of the nearly 50,000 American troops stationed in the country—its governor, Denny Tamaki, has been particular dissatisfied with the surge in coronavirus cases.

Local communities in Okinawa reported a record 981 new cases on Thursday, while an additional 164 were detected at U.S. bases across the prefecture, now accounting for around one-third of USFJ's active cases. Marine Corps Base Camp Hansen, where a cluster of infections grew before Christmas, is the second-worst hit after MCAS Iwakuni.

Blaming a Lack of Discipline

Tamaki, who has blamed a lack of discipline for the alarming rise in cases, has requested that the prefecture is put into a quasi-state of emergency before the weekend.

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida told reporters in Tokyo that tighter restrictions in Okinawa, Yamaguchi and Hiroshima could be imposed as soon as Friday. The measures would include a curfew on alcohol sales, he said.

The spread of infections at U.S. military bases has already impacted public sentiment and perceptions of the American military forces in Japan. In the past, crimes committed locally by U.S. service members have tested relations between the two close allies.

A planned virtual meeting between Blinken, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and their Japanese counterparts, Hayashi and Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi, is expected to touch on the COVID situation in both countries.

Japan Requests Tighter COVID Measures From U.S.
U.S. Marines and sailors carry a simulated casualty to a helicopter during a mass casualty training exercise at Marine Corps Base Camp Hansen in Okinawa, Japan, on May 15, 2021. MCB Camp Hansen had some of the highest number of active COVID cases when Japan requested tighter virus measures at U.S. installations on January 6, 2022. Lance Cpl. Malik Lewis/U.S. Marine Corps