Dozens of U.S. Marines Test Positive For Covid-19 in Japan, Angering Local Authorities

File photo of U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Okinawa, Japan, which currently has at least 39 Marines diagnosed with covid-19.
File photo of U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Okinawa, Japan, which currently has at least 39 Marines diagnosed with covid-19.
Photo: Carl Court (Getty Images)

At least 62 U.S. Marines have tested positive for coronavirus at American military bases in Japan, according to a new report from the Japan Times. It’s not yet clear whether the U.S. service members brought covid-19 with them from overseas or if they were infected while in Japan. But either way, authorities in Japan are not happy with the high number of infections.

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The new covid-19 clusters were just a rumor until Okinawa’s Governor Denny Tamaki reportedly demanded more transparency about the outbreaks happening at U.S. military facilities in the region—an American presence that is highly contentious, even at the best of times. Japanese citizens regularly protest against the U.S. military’s bases in Japan.

“Okinawans are shocked by what we were told [by the U.S. military],” Tamaki said over the weekend, according to the Associated Press. “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.”

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Japan identified roughly 373 new coronavirus cases yesterday and 410 the day before that, a troubling spike for a country that was identifying fewer than 100 per day just a couple of weeks ago. But those numbers pale in comparison to the outbreak in the U.S., which currently has the worst pandemic in the world.The U.S. identified 60,719 cases yesterday, and 66,786 cases on Saturday, a new daily record for both the country and the world. Florida alone reported 15,299 new cases on Sunday, a new state record.

Governor Tamaki, a dual U.S.-Japanese citizen whose father was a U.S. Marine and mother was a Japanese resident, expressed concern that the U.S. military wouldn’t be able to prevent the spread of the virus from bases in Okinawa.

“I can’t help but have strong doubts about the U.S. military’s measures to prevent infections,” Tamaki said this weekend, according to the Japan Times.

The U.S. military bases with clusters of outbreaks include U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma with 39 covid-19 infections, Camp Hansen with 22 covid-19 infections, and Camp Kinser with just one infection. All of the infections have been detected since July 7, according to the Japan Times.

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Okinawa has seen just 148 infections and 7 deaths total since the outbreak began, numbers that make it seem unlikely the Marines caught the virus in the region. But the U.S. military isn’t saying where they believe the service members acquired the disease. Bases in the region are now locking down to help slow the spread.

“All Okinawa MCCS facilities are closed until noon Wednesday. This includes gyms, pools and CDC,” Marine Corps Installations in the Pacific said on its Facebook page July 11. “The commissary as well as AAFES Exchange facilities to include take-out only food courts will remain open.”

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The U.S. has long been an exporter of the virus since at least March, with people as far away as Iceland and Australia reporting illness from covid-19 after they arrived home from trips to the U.S. Most wealthy countries around the world have banned U.S. citizens from visiting during the pandemic and it’s not clear when Americans might be able to travel freely again.

The Mexican state of Sonora, which shares a border with Arizona, has even closed its doors to Americans in an attempt to stop the disease from entering Mexico. Arizona currently has the worst outbreak in the U.S. on a per capita basis, with 3,038 new cases identified on Sunday. As of Friday, 3,485 patients were hospitalized in Arizona with covid-19, a new record for the state.

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The U.S. Marine Corps installation of Okinawa did not respond to a request for comment. Gizmodo will update this post if we hear back.

Matt Novak is the editor of Gizmodo's Paleofuture blog

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DISCUSSION

Meanwhile one of the most underreported aspects of the outbreak is how military bases even stateside are faring. Our local Marine base was the source of the first (and third) local cases, but after the civilian contractors started an uproar over the lack of information being given about potential contacts with the infected Marines, the base went totally silent. It’s been three months, and about all that is ‘officially’ known is that the base continues to be on a sort of ‘soft lockdown’ with most service members told they are to remain on base at all times.