III MEF instructs Marines on Okinawa to prepare for 72-hour shelter in place order
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CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — The III Marine Expeditionary Force in Okinawa instructed its Marines to prepare to shelter in place with up to 72 hours of food, water and other necessities on hand to contain the spread of the coronavirus and to facilitate contact tracing and cleaning teams.
III MEF posted the instructions Monday on its Facebook pages. If imposed, the order requires Marines to make their way home immediately via the quickest route possible, limit interactions with other people and seek further instruction from their chains of command in regard to essential service requirements.
The order is a proactive, precautionary measure, and not based on a specific threat, III MEF spokesman 1st Lt. Ryan Bruce wrote Monday in an email to Stars and Stripes. Marine officials likened it to preparations for a typhoon, an annual occurrence on the island.
There are currently no confirmed cases of coronavirus among Marines in Japan, Bruce said.
“We need our personnel to be prepared for a multitude of situations, which include a potential shelter-in-place order,” he wrote. “An order to shelter-in-place may be issued in any situation requiring personnel to stop movement, limiting the potential spread of the disease, enabling more effective contact tracing, and facilitating cleaning team activities.”
Essential items include food, water, medications, infant formula, diapers, personal hygiene items, pet supplies and means of entertainment, III MEF said on Facebook.
Marines would be informed of the order by their unit leaders or through the AtHoc interactive warning system. The system notifies users via phone call, text message or email.
Bruce said sheltering in place would reduce the number of potential contacts and contaminated locations.
On Friday, Marine Forces Japan imposed more stringent off-base liberty restrictions that included barring Marines from using non-military public and mass transportation and going off-base for anything except essential services. This included visiting other people’s off-base homes and getting food through a drive-thru or even delivery.
It also barred Marines, dependents, Defense Department civilian employees and contractors from off-base schools and child care facilities.
The restrictions are among the strictest on Okinawa. The Air Force 18th Wing at Kadena Air Base on Monday imposed a “sustained Counter-COVID-19 posture,” which mirrored many of the Marine restrictions. It bars airmen from off-base restaurants, schools and child care facilities starting Wednesday. However, airmen are still allowed to patronize off-base drive-thru windows for food.
As of Sunday, Okinawa had reported 119 confirmed virus cases, the prefectural government website said. These include two U.S. airmen and a family member from Kadena Air Base. The prefecture has reported three deaths.
After the number of confirmed coronavirus cases on Okinawa doubled in a week’s time, Okinawa Gov. Denny Tamaki is planning to declare a regional state of emergency, the Ryukyu Shimpo newspaper reported Monday. No further details were available by press time.
Stars and Stripes reporter Aya Ichihashi contributed to this report.