Two US bases on Okinawa locked down over coronavirus spike

US Marine Corps servicemen salute while Japanese and US flags are being taken down at the evening colors ceremony at an American base in Okinawa on November 14, 2014. (AFP file photo)
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Updated 13 July 2020

Two US bases on Okinawa locked down over coronavirus spike

  • There are tens of thousands of US servicemen stationed on the southern Japanese island
  • Prefecture will also ask for incoming troops and their families to observe their arrival quarantine on-base

TOKYO: Two US Marine bases in Japan’s Okinawa have been put into lockdown after dozens of coronavirus infections, with local officials criticizing the American military’s containment efforts.
There are tens of thousands of US servicemen stationed on the southern Japanese island, which has recorded roughly 150 civilian COVID-19 infections.
Government spokesman Yoshihide Suga said Monday that 62 cases have been detected in recent days in US forces, most of them at US Marine Corps Air Station Futenma and Camp Hansen.
The spike in infections has created tensions with local officials, including Okinawa governor Denny Tamaki.
In response to the outbreak, almost all off-base travel was halted from Sunday, according to guidelines posted on the Marine Corps Installation Pacific Facebook page.
Marine Corps service members, dependents, and civilians can move freely on the base but require permission to leave, including for medical appointments.
“Those orders are in place until further notice and limit base access and operations to essential personnel,” the force said in a separate post.
The post did not specify which bases were affected and US military officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
An Okinawa official said the prefecture had been informed that the order applied to only Futenma and Camp Hansen.
He added that the number of forces on the bases is not disclosed for “security reasons.”
US military presence on the island is a longstanding sore spot, with many in the region arguing they bear a disproportionate share of the burden of hosting American forces.
On Saturday, Tamaki said he was “shocked” by the number of cases on the bases.
“I can’t help but feel serious doubts about US measures against infections,” he told reporters.
Tamaki said he has asked US forces to halt the arrival of troops rotating into the country and to boost anti-infection measures.
It is unclear where the bases’ clusters of infections originated, but local media said there were concerns about incoming troops and their families who are being quarantined in local hotels off-base.
An Okinawa government official said the prefecture would ask the central government and US forces to share information about cases among the military more quickly.
The prefecture will also ask for incoming troops and their families to observe their arrival quarantine on-base, they said.


Philippines to charter flight to bring home citizens from Lebanon

Updated 45 min 26 sec ago

Philippines to charter flight to bring home citizens from Lebanon

  • Remains of four who died in Tuesday’s massive blast in Beirut also to be repatriated

MANILA: The Philippines will soon be sending a chartered flight to Lebanon to bring back Filipinos impacted by a massive explosion at the port of Beirut as early as next week, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said on Saturday.

“The DFA is paying P15,000,000 ($305,643) from its funds for a chartered Qatar Air flight to repatriate from Beirut. The Philippine Embassy in Beirut is negotiating it and disbursing the amount. Aug. 16 is [the date set for] arrival,” Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. said, adding that the flight will also bring home the remains of four Filipinos who died in Tuesday’s blast.

Around 400 Filipinos from Lebanon are expected to return following the catastrophic explosion, which decimated the Lebanese capital.

On Friday, Foreign Affairs Undersecretary for Migrant Workers Sarah Lou Arriola said that President Rodrigo Duterte was responding to the “clamor of Filipinos in Lebanon” and that the “chartered flight is the most concrete, immediate and timely assistance” that the DFA could provide given the current situation there.

Reports state that the deadly explosion was caused by a cargo of 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate, stored at a warehouse in the port of Beirut for years. 

The odorless chemical is commonly used as an agricultural fertilizer but is also used to make powerful bombs.

“With ground operations clearing more area and embassy personnel receiving additional reports, the department is taking in new inputs with regard to the status of the Filipino community in the country,” the DFA said in a statement. 

Data released by the DFA placed the number of Filipinos impacted at 48, with 42 wounded, four dead, and two missing.

“By day’s end yesterday, the number of injured oversees Filipino workers stands at 42, an increase of 11 from the previous report,” Arriola said.

Two of the wounded remained in critical condition and were being monitored at the Rizk Hospital.

“We were also alerted that another Filipino was reported missing, increasing the number to two. The number of Filipino fatalities, meanwhile, remains at four,” she added.

The DFA said that, earlier, it had expected the number of affected Filipinos to increase considering the magnitude of the Beirut destruction.

Even before the onset of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, the DFA had begun its repatriation activities from Lebanon to limit the worsening condition of Filipinos in the country due to economic woes. It has repatriated at least 1,508 Filipinos from Lebanon since December 2019.