Since July 11, at least 99 people between the US military and contractors in Okinawa prefecture, southwest Japan, have tested positive for COVID-19, causing further tension in the Japanese host community that has been forced to endure frequent attacks, accidents and environmental degradation in the last 75 years.
Since July 11, COVID-19 infections have been detected at US bases throughout Okinawa. Most of the cases come from the Futenma base and other US Navy bases near Naha, the populated capital of Okinawa. US Marines appear to be the majority of Okinawa's 99 infected in July.
So far, 148 Japanese citizens or residents of Okinawa (as opposed to the prefecture's US military) have tested positive for COVID-19 since February 2020. Four of these cases were reported after July 11, and as of July 13. In July, no new cases of COVID-19 were reported.
With a population of 1.45 million people, at least 47,000 US servicemen and their dependents live in Okinawa. Navy, Army, and Air Force personnel are assigned in Okinawa, and all generally have their own rules of conduct, with their own chains of command.
Like Okinawa, mainland Japan also had few COVID-19 infections compared to other countries since the pandemic was declared in March. However, as of July 10, Tokyo, with a population of 14 million people, has started to record more than 200 new cases of the disease for several days in a row.
So far, there are no official explanations from the US authorities about the outbreak in Okinawa among military personnel, or about its source. However, a video circulated on social media showing a large party on a beach, where participants seemed to ignore the official guidelines for social distancing in public places by the Okinawa prefecture government.
Allegedly a video of the bbq party in Okinawa that may be where the US military COVID-19 cases originated. Not only no social distancing of any kind, they didn't have a permit for a 300+ party in the park. They left when neighbors complained, leaving a ton of trash. https://t.co/XEOEzoyT6y
– Makiko Itoh (伊藤 牧 子) (@makiwi) July 13, 2020
Here is a video of the same soldiers from the United States, rumored to be part of a COVID-19 “group,” enjoying an Independence Day celebration. Although they are not part of the group, how is it possible that 300 people can get together, without permission, in a park to get together, to drink and celebrate? Still, the party ended after complaints from neighbors, they left a lot of trash.
Supposedly a video of a barbecue in Okinawa where COVID-19 cases may have originated among the US military. Not only is there no social distancing, but they also did not have permission for a party of more than 300 people in the park. They left when the neighbors complained and left a ton of garbage.
The original video was posted online by a Twitter user under the name @IAMCITIAmerican who lives in Okinawa and who allegedly organized the meeting. After a COVID-19 outbreak was declared, quickly removed the video but they blamed him for helping to spread the disease.
“My beach meeting has no confirmed cases of COVID-19, according to Okinawa public health,” IAMICITI said in an Instagram message to Global Voices on July 13 and that “as far as I know, all participants and my friends have tested negative for COVID. “
Without information on what triggered the current July 19 COVID outbreak in Okinawa, it is now speculated online that a recent deployment of US Navy and Air Force troops to Okinawa may have been responsible for the outbreak.
“The entire COVID situation was under control here until the recent units were deployed here. It was too good to last, ”said Redditor Fastbondgush, commenting on the July 19 COVID outbreak on Reddit's r / USMC forum, a channel devoted to US Marine Corps conversations. As part of the “UDP”, or Unit Deployment Program, new troops are rotated in a new deployment; I know speculates that new troops arrived in Okinawa in June from Seattle, in Washington state, heavily hit by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Following the outbreak, US Navy and Air Force personnel were essentially confined to barracks to prevent the spread of COVID-19. However, Okinawa officials expressed frustration at having little or no influence over whether US troops practiced social distancing and other preventive measures. For example, once the outbreak was identified, the United States Army quarantined infected soldiers and base personnel at local hotels rather than the more isolated local bases.
The Army also did not make public the extent of the outbreak, but instead communicated privately with the Okinawa government. The Okinawan government decided to inform the community of the outbreak among military personnel, despite the fear of damaging relations with the US forces, which in turn operate in medical facilities built with funds from the Japanese government.
Okinawa, which houses 70% of US military installations in Japan, has long complained about the conduct of the 45,000 military occupying the prefecture. More recently, the Kadena Air Base minimized a fire that exposed dozens of people, including local residents, to chlorine gas and smoke.
Other cases of riots, such as the 2016 murder of a local woman by a U.S. military contractor, continue to occur regularly, and U.S. military authorities have been implicated in organizing disinformation campaigns against the locals. Tensions over the construction of bases continue to dominate local and national politics.
This article was updated on July 14, 2020.