In order to prevent the spread of COVID-19, we want the United States Forces Japan to adhere to stringent preventative measures.
Three people affiliated with Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni (in the city of Iwakuni, Yamaguchi Prefecture), who were confirmed to be infected with COVID-19, traveled to the base by civilian aircraft after entering Japan at Haneda Airport. They had promised not to use civilian transportation. At U.S. military bases in Okinawa, more than 140 people have been reported to be infected. Given this situation, it’s clear that the USFJ’s preventative measures are insufficient. Both instances are very troubling.
U.S. military personnel have falsely reported that they have traveled to Iwakuni by rental vehicles instead of public transportation, when in reality, they used public transportation. COVID-19 can spread easily, and these actions, which undermine trust of the USFJ’s sense of discipline, are inexcusable.
At Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Ginowan, Okinawa, and at Camp Hansen in Kin, Okinawa, clusters of infection have broken out. Unease is spreading among residents. As part of an investigation into the U.S. military’s containment measures, officials from the Ministry of Defense, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the prefecture inspected a hotel in Chatan, Okinawa, used by the U.S. military to quarantine newly arrived employees and families from overseas and outside of the prefecture.
On July 14, the government reported its findings on this deplorable situation to the USFJ, recommending strict punishment and thorough enforcement of preventative measures. On July 17, a new policy was implemented, requiring that all persons arriving at USFJ bases from overseas undergo PCR diagnostic testing to screen for COVID-19.
The government’s recommendations are justified. The USFJ is taking a stance of compliance.
In April of this year, the government banned entry into Japan for people arriving from the United States. But U.S. military personnel were granted entry in accordance with the U.S.-Japan Status of Forces Agreement. At the time, only personnel who showed fever and other symptoms underwent PCR testing.
Prefectural citizens have expressed concern about the spread of infection, due to intermingling between U.S. military base personnel and others outside of the base. Many infected military personnel in Okinawa are asymptomatic or show only mild symptoms. For this reason, Defense Minister Taro Kano pointed out at a July 17 press conference that because there are “so many asymptomatic people, PCR testing is a must.”
USFJ troops are garrisoned in accordance with the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty. As an allied force, USFJ troops play a critical role in defending Japan in emergency situations. After disasters such as the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and the 2016 earthquakes in Kumamoto, the troops worked tirelessly to help victims, cultivating a relationship of mutual trust with citizens.
But these recent false declarations and insufficient measures are hurting the trust that has been fostered for so long, as well as the alliance’s deterrence ability and readiness. The USFJ must urgently focus on serious self-reflection and improvement regarding its actions in this matter.
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