Record number of migrant boats crossed in the English Channel in 2021

TOKYO: The U.S. military on Thursday ordered personnel stationed in Japan to wear masks when leaving the base to curb the spread of COVID-19 infections.

US forces have come under fire after a recent spike in coronavirus cases in areas where they are based in large numbers, including Okinawa and Iwakuni, both in southern Japan.

On Thursday, Okinawa Governor Denny Tamaki sent a request to the Japanese national government to seek permission from the prefecture to strengthen its anti-COVID measures.

At least 980 people, a daily record for Okinawa, tested positive for COVID-19 on Thursday. In December, there were no new cases on certain days.

“If we all work together, we hope the cases will decrease,” Tamaki told reporters.

Japan has never had a lockdown, but measures have been taken periodically to restrict people’s activities, such as forcing shops and restaurants to close early or to serve fewer people.

Tamaki blamed US soldiers for what he called the “alarming increase” in cases in Okinawa, which has been hit harder than the rest of Japan. He pledged financial assistance to companies that comply with the restrictions.

Other prefectures with American bases, such as Yamaguchi, where the Iwakuni base is located, are expected to follow suit. Cases are gradually increasing across Japan, including Tokyo, which reported 390 new cases on Wednesday. Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike has so far been reluctant to order restrictive measures.

Japan tightened border controls late last year, preventing travel from overseas except for residents and returning citizens. US soldiers are basically free to enter and move around Japan under a bilateral security agreement. The United States is Japan’s most important ally.

COVID-19 cases among U.S. forces in Japan now total 1,784, of which about a third are in Okinawa, according to the USFJ. Iwakuni reported a total of 529 cases. Military forces coming to Japan must present three negative COVID-19 tests, including one before departure.

“The mitigation measures we have instituted across the USFJ are aimed at protecting the readiness of our force, the well-being of our families, and the health of Japanese citizens. We recognize that we all have a role to play in keeping our communities safe, ”US forces in Japan said in a statement.

This week, Japan has reported more than 2,000 cases per day. About 80% of the population has received two injections of the vaccine, but the boosters are only just beginning. Japan has so far recorded 18,300 COVID-related deaths. Concerns are growing about the omicron variant, as some people have died at home when the medical system could not handle the sudden increase in cases.

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