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Sasebo Naval Base in Japan re-imposes tight restrictions after uptick in infections

A sailor is screened for coronavirus symptoms at Sasebo Naval Base, Japan, May 13, 2020.

JASMINE IKUSEBIALA/U.S. NAVY

By JOSEPH DITZLER | STARS AND STRIPES Published: October 6, 2020

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TOKYO — The new commander of Sasebo Naval Base in Japan has re-imposed a tight set of anti-coronavirus measures following four new cases within the base community.

Capt. David Adams, who took command on Sept. 25, ordered a return to only mission-essential trips off base, according to a revised public health order posted Tuesday evening on the base Facebook page. No one affiliated with the base can travel “anywhere outside of home, work or essential stops,” a return to measures imposed early in the coronavirus pandemic.

The new round of infections occurred within the existing community and not among new arrivals or returning travelers, base spokesman Aki Nichols told Stars and Stripes by phone Wednesday.

One patient showed flu-like symptoms and tested positive after traveling outside Nagasaki prefecture and the other three are close contacts, according to a subsequent news release from Nichols.

All four are in isolation “until they recover,” according to the release. U.S. Forces Japan requires a 14-day minimum quarantine period for coronavirus patients, who must test free of the virus before leaving isolation.

The U.S. military in Japan typically does not identify coronavirus patients as service members, civilian employees or family members.

Adams’ revised order restricts activities such as shopping at malls and other retailers in the surrounding communities, patronizing dine-in restaurants and similar establishments and stays in Japanese hotels or inns for other than official business.

The stricter measures are meant to curb the virus’ spread but also to allow contact tracers to work quickly to find other individuals who were exposed to it, according to a second post by Adams on Tuesday.

The Defense Department schools on base will remain open, according to a separate message on the base Facebook page.

In his later post, Adams said calling a halt to classroom sessions would interrupt students’ learning and unnecessarily “create additional stress and complications” for teachers already working in a complicated environment.

“So far,” he wrote, “there is no connection between identified persons who have tested positive and the school system.”

The tighter restrictions will remain in place for several weeks, Adams said.

His order provides leeway for some recreational activities in the surrounding area. Sasebo personnel may “walk, jog or cycle” off base for exercise in the Sasebo and Hario areas, or around their off-base homes, provided they avoid congested or crowded areas.

Other permitted activities include kayaking, paddle boarding, fishing and similar activities in local rivers or at Lake Isanoura. Other sites for outdoor recreation are permitted, according to the revised public health order.

Attendance at off-base schools, child care and similar activities for children are permitted, with discretion.

The updated public health order pulls back many activities previously permitted after a long summer of restrictions. Travel outside Sasebo city, for example, is forbidden without special permission. Any form of public transportation is off-limits; gathering in any size group other than family is also not allowed.

Exercise at base gyms is still an option, according to the public health order, provided the participants wear masks and employ social distancing. Base playgrounds are still available, with some conditions such as masks and social distancing.

ditzler.joseph@stripes.com
Twitter: @JosephDitzler