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Sasebo, Misawa are latest bases in Japan to relax anti-virus restrictions before holiday

People attend an outdoor church service at Sasebo Naval Base, Japan, May 11, 2020.

U.S. NAVY

By JAMES BOLINGER | STARS AND STRIPES Published: July 2, 2020

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Two more U.S. military bases in Japan eased coronavirus restrictions in time for sailors, airmen, families and civilian workers to stretch their legs over Independence Day weekend.

Misawa Air Base, at the northern tip of Honshu, the largest of Japan’s four main islands, on Thursday opened the Tohoku region for travel by base personnel. Travel is now permitted in Akita, Aomori, Fukushima, Iwate, Miyagi and Yamagata prefectures, according to a post on the base Facebook page.

Likewise, personnel from Sasebo Naval Base are permitted to travel throughout Kyushu, the southernmost of Japan’s four main islands, with the exception of the Fukuoka metro area, Sasebo commander Capt. Brad Stallings said in a statement Wednesday.

Individuals from both installations may visit public baths, saunas and tattoo parlors.

They can also dine in at off-base restaurants, as long as they practice social distancing and wear masks covering their nose and mouth when not eating.

Misawa imposed a 90-minute dining limit and a “hard cut-off” 9 p.m. restaurant curfew.

Sasebo’s people may visit amusement parks and take part in sports; Misawa personnel can go to movie theaters and massage parlors. They may also stay at hotels and cabins.

“As long as we all continue to take personal responsibility seriously, maintain distance, wear our masks properly and maintain strict hygiene habits we won't catch this disease and it won't find its way onto the base or our ships,” Stallings wrote.

Bars and karaoke establishments, which have been the leading cause of the virus’ spread in Japan, are still off limits for personnel at both facilities, as they are for most U.S. personnel.

Also, Misawa put the Japanese high-speed trains, the shinkansen, and air travel off-limits. Rail travel of any sort is generally prohibited, with exceptions, to anyone associated with the U.S. military in Japan.

Stallings has incrementally relaxed restrictions aboard the installation since mid-June, when U.S. Forces Japan lowered its health protection condition from “substantial” to “moderate.”

He has also revoked base access for several civilians who violated coronavirus restrictions on off-base travel and other activities. Two were found at a bar in April; however, an undisclosed number were punished in May for unspecified violations.

Yokota Air Base and Yokosuka Naval Base, both near Tokyo, also eased restrictions this week that have impacted service members and other military personnel since March. The public health order imposed on April 6 that governs U.S. troops in Japan is set to expire July 14.

About 1,000 people have died in Japan from COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus, and the country has reported about 19,000 infections, according to government statistics.

bolinger.james@stripes.com
Twitter: @bolingerj2004
 

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