US, Japan agree to keep troops on base to curb the spread of COVID

The United States and Japan have agreed to keep US troops at their bases as concerns grow over a sharp rise in coronavirus cases in the country

The restrictions from Monday will last 14 days, confining US military personnel to base facilities, except for “essential activities,” according to a statement from US forces in Japan. The Japanese Foreign Ministry issued the same statement.

Allies will share information and cooperate on coronavirus measures, “given the extraordinary virulence of the omicron variant which is spreading throughout Japan,” the statement said.

The U.S. military will wear masks, both on and off the base, outside their homes, and will continue to perform strict testing before leaving for and after arriving in Japan, he said.

New cases of COVID-19 rose in Japan, surpassing 8,000 on Saturday, a four-month record. The peak was more pronounced in areas near US bases. Japan last week called on the United States to cooperate in keeping its military personnel on the base.

Okinawa, a group of southwestern islands that is home to most of the 55,000 US troops in Japan, is one of three prefectures where separate government restrictions were enforced on Sunday. The measures, which last until the end of the month, include the early closure of restaurants at 8 p.m. or 9 p.m. Some restaurants must also stop serving alcohol.

The restrictions also came into effect in Yamaguchi Prefecture, where Iwakuni’s base is located, and near Hiroshima. The Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, which documents the US atomic bombing of Japan at the end of World War II, and Hiroshima Castle are both closed to visitors.

Other regions may see similar restrictions if cases continue to rise.

People have been warned to stay at home and avoid travel. Until recently, bars, shrines and shopping districts were packed with year-end shoppers and New Year’s travelers.

In Tokyo, daily confirmed cases topped 1,200 in the past two days, 14 times the previous week.

Throughout the pandemic, Japan has never imposed lockdowns but has implemented various levels of restrictions, including school closures and event cancellations.

About 80% of the population received their second vaccine. The boosters have barely started, with less than 1% of them receiving them despite repeated promises from the government to speed up their deployment. Japan has strict border controls in place, banning most inbound travel except residents and returning citizens.

Japan has reported around 18,300 COVID-19-related deaths to date. In recent days there have been only one or two deaths, and some days none.

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Yuri Kageyama is on Twitter https://twitter.com/yurikageyama

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