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Tokyo sets another new coronavirus one-day high and Yokosuka Naval Base orders curfew

Visitors to Kawasaki-Daishi temple in Kanagawa prefecture, Japan, wear masks while strolling past souvenir and food stands on Jan. 4, 2021.

AKIFUMI ISHIKAWA/STARS AND STRIPES

By JOSEPH DITZLER | STARS AND STRIPES Published: January 6, 2021

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TOKYO – Japan and its capital city reported their highest one-day new coronavirus case totals Wednesday.

The largest U.S. naval base in the country on the same day ordered an overnight curfew and other measures to combat a growing cluster of coronavirus infections of unknown origin.

Japan exceeded 5,000 new coronavirus cases Wednesday for the first time, according to public broadcaster NHK, which provided no further information.

The Tokyo Metropolitan Government reported 1,591 people tested positive Wednesday, exceeding the previous high mark, 1,337, reached Dec. 31, according to the metro government and NHK.

The number of seriously ill patients in Tokyo on Wednesday was 113, the highest number ever, NHK reported.

Though Japan’s numbers are low compared to many other countries its size, the third wave of coronavirus has hit the nation hardest. It set and broke records one after another in December.

U.S. military bases in Japan together reported 69 new patients Tuesday evening through 6 p.m. Wednesday, including 46 at Yokosuka Naval Base and 17 at nearby Naval Air Facility Atsugi.

The new patients at Yokosuka, the home 35 miles south of Tokyo of the U.S. 7th Fleet, have tested positive since Dec. 30, according to a Facebook post.

Eleven became ill with symptoms of COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus; 23 others were discovered during contact tracing. Nine were recent arrivals to Japan and one tested positive during a medical screening. Two base employees also fell ill and tested positive, according to the naval base. The base has 86 patients under observation.

Base commander Capt. Rich Jarrett imposed a curfew and other measures to stem the local outbreak, he said in a Facebook video address Wednesday.

“We are entering a new, critical phase of our COVID-19 response,” Jarrett said in the 4 ½-minute-long video. “The next month will be difficult, probably our most difficult period of COVID-19 response.”

The thousands affiliated with the naval base must be in their own homes, whether on the base or in the surrounding community, between 8 p.m. and 5 a.m., according to Jarrett’s order posted on Facebook.

Hotel stays are prohibited, unless they’re related to official business, Jarrett said. Visitor passes are canceled. Base restaurants may serve take-out orders only. Trips on public transportation are off-limits except for essential activities or work commutes with no other alternatives available, Jarrett said.

Defense Department schools on base will remain in session, he said. He also said units should encourage telework and 50% manning where possible.

Jarrett in December attributed a local outbreak to individuals disregarding bans on visiting high-risk areas and visiting off-limits bars and similar venues. Hundreds of sailors were quarantined as a precaution on base quarters or the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan as a result.

“However, in the past 10 days we are now observing many unique cases that are not traceable to a previously known cluster,” he said, “and the sources of these infections is unknown.”

Jarrett said he ordered the curfew after Kanagawa prefecture, where the base is located, asked that the base cease activity after 8 p.m. Essential work and duty personnel are exempted.

The government of Japan is preparing a state of emergency in the four prefectures that comprise the greater Tokyo metro area, including Kanagawa, in an attempt to curb the virus’s spread, Jarrett said.

Naval Air Facility Atsugi, 25 miles northwest of Yokosuka, reported 17 individuals tested positive Wednesday for the virus. All 17 were already in quarantine, base spokesman Sam Samuelson said Wednesday.

Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, 500 miles west of Tokyo, reported three new coronavirus patients Wednesday, according to a Facebook post. One was quarantined as a close contact of another infected individual; the other two were not in isolation but the base provided no further information.

Kadena Air Base on Okinawa reported three new patients Wednesday, all of them tested positive while in the mandatory, two-week quarantine following travel outside Japan, according to a Facebook post.

ditzler.joseph@stripes.com
Twitter: @JosephDitzler