Marines in Japan limit off-base activities further as coronavirus cases rise on Okinawa
By MATTHEW M. BURKE | STARS AND STRIPES Published: April 17, 2020
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CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — Marine Forces Japan imposed more stringent off-base liberty restrictions Friday as the coronavirus continues to spread throughout the region.
The orders were announced in the evening by the III Marine Expeditionary Force on Okinawa and took effect immediately, a Marine statement said.
Marines in Japan are now barred from using non-military public and mass transportation, including taxis, and are allowed off-base only to patronize essential services, the statement said. Those are limited to medical and veterinary appointments, grocery shopping, bill paying, purchasing gas at service stations and postal services.
Marines are no longer allowed to take annual leave or visit off-base homes unless they live there, III Marine Expeditionary Force spokesman 1st Lt. Ryan Bruce told Stars and Stripes in an email Friday evening.
Marines are barred from eating in off-base restaurants, getting takeout or drive-thru meals, the Marine statement said. They are also barred from off-base schools and child care facilities.
Marines may run, hike and swim off base, as long as they avoid close contact with others and maintain social distancing protocols, the statement said. They are no longer allowed to participate in activities with more than two people unless they are immediate family, Bruce added.
The guidance also applies to dependents, Defense Department civilian employees and contractors, the statement said. The government of Japan on Okinawa and the prefectural government have been notified as a courtesy.
There are approximately 30,000 Marines based throughout Japan, with the majority in Okinawa, Bruce said.
The statement came two days after U.S. Forces Japan declared a public health emergency for all U.S. military facilities in the country and a day after Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced a nationwide state of emergency.
“These changes are motivated by the continued spread of coronavirus cases throughout the region, USFJ’s declaration of a Japan-wide public health emergency, and the Government of Japan’s expanded state of emergency to encompass all of Japan,” the statement said. “These preventive measures are intended to ensure the protection of the force, our families, and our local communities, both on and off-base.”
Marine Forces Japan plans to continue “essential training and activities” while limiting the potential for exposure to coronavirus through social distancing, teleworking and other practices, it added.
“We will maintain our proficiency and readiness in support of our allies and partners in the Indo-Pacific,” the statement said.
The measures will be “continually assessed” to determine if additional measures are needed or if they can be relaxed, it added.
As of Friday, Okinawa had reported 105 confirmed virus cases, the prefectural government website said. These include a girl who tested positive at the airport but was counted in another prefecture’s tally and two U.S. airmen and a family member from Kadena Air Base.
The number of cases had doubled in a week’s time, Gov. Denny Tamaki said at a press conference Friday, according to the Okinawa Times.
Stars and Stripes reporter Aya Ichihashi contributed to this report.