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Okinawa governor wants tougher action as 61 Marines infected

TOKYO — The governor of Japan’s Okinawa island demanded a top U.S. military commander take tougher prevention measures and more transparency hours after officials were told that more than 60 Marines at two bases have been infected with the coronavirus over the past few days.

Okinawan officials on Sunday reported a total of 61 cases — 38 of them at Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, which is at the center of a relocation dispute, and another 23 at Camp Hansen — since July 7. They said that U.S. military officials told them the two bases have since been put in lockdown.

The disclosure of the exact figures came only after Okinawa’s repeated requests to the U.S. military.

Gov. Denny Tamaki, in telephone talks late Saturday with Lt. Gen. H. Stacy Clardy, commander of III Marine Expeditionary Force, demanded the U.S military increase disease prevention measures to maximum levels, stop sending personnel from the mainland U.S. to Okinawa and seal the bases, as well as provide more transparency.

“Okinawans are shocked by what we were told (by the U.S. military),” Tamaki told a news conference Saturday. “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.

Tamaki said he wants more talks with the U.S. military. Okinawan officials also asked the Japanese government to pressure the U.S. side to provide details including the number of cases, seal off Futenma and Camp Hansen, and step up preventive measures.

Adding to their concern is quarantining of an unidentified number of American service members arriving from the mainland U.S. for ongoing staff rotations at an off-base hotel due to shortage of space on base, officials said.

The Marines said in a statement Friday that the troops were taking additional protective measures to limit the spread of the coronavirus and were restricting off-base activities. The statement said measures are “to protect our forces, our families, and the local community,” without providing details on the infections.

The Marine Corps Installations Pacific said on its Facebook page on Saturday that “this week, the Marine Corps experienced two localized clusters of individuals who tested positive for the virus.” It said those who tested positive were in isolation.

Okinawa is home to more than half of about 50,000 American troops based in Japan under a bilateral security pact, and the residents are sensitive to U.S. base-related problems. Many Okinawans have long complained about pollution, noise and crime.

Okinawans also oppose a planned relocation of Futenma Air Base from the current site in a densely populated area in the south to a less populated area on the east coast.

Okinawa has had about 150 cases of the coronavirus. In all, Japan has had about 21,000 cases and 1,000 deaths, with Tokyo reporting more than 200 new cases for a third straight day Saturday.

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