USFJ's enlisted leader touts COVID-19 vaccine as 17 cases pop up in Japan, South Korea
By JOSEPH DITZLER | STARS AND STRIPES Published: April 22, 2021
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TOKYO – The U.S. military commands in Japan and South Korea reported that another 17 people had contracted the coronavirus as of 6 p.m. Thursday.
Meanwhile, the senior enlisted leader for U.S. Forces Japan urged troops to get the COVID-19 vaccine and travel to a shot clinic at a nearby base if they’re unable to schedule a vaccination on their own installation.
Fourteen people affiliated with U.S. Forces Korea tested positive for the coronavirus after arriving on the peninsula between March 29 and April 19, the command announced Thursday. The same day, the Marine Corps on Okinawa had three people contract COVID-19, the coronavirus respiratory disease, according to an official Facebook post.
Eight of USFK’s new coronavirus patients are service members who arrived at Osan Air Base on the Patriot Express, a government-contracted passenger service, on March 29-30 and April 12, 14, and 19, a command news release said.
A civilian Defense Department employee and two family members also tested positive from those flights.
The other new cases are a service member, a civilian employee and a contractor who flew into Incheon International Airport via commercial flights on April 8 and 16, according to the release.
Nine of the new patients came up positive on a test required before entering quarantine, and five tested positive before ending their mandatory isolation period, the release said. All 14 have been isolated at either Osan, Kunsan Air Base or Camp Humphreys.
South Korea reported 735 new infections on Thursday, according to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency. The country’s pandemic total sits at 116,661 cases with 1,808 deaths.
In Japan, the number of new cases remains at a pandemic high in the country’s second-largest metro area, Osaka, and are growing steadily in Tokyo.
On Thursday, Osaka announced another 1,167 infections and eight deaths; Tokyo reported 861 new cases, according to NHK.
The Japanese government declared an emergency Thursday in both prefectures, along with Osaka’s neighboring prefectures Hyogo and Kyoto, NHK reported.
Unlike emergencies declared January through March, this one is expected to bring tougher measures, Kyodo News reported Wednesday. Osaka Gov. Hirofumi Yoshimura may temporarily close department stores and amusement parks during the Golden Week holidays through early May. He may also call on restaurants and bars to close on weekends and refrain from serving alcohol.
At Yokota Air Base in western Tokyo, Command Chief Master Sgt. Richard Winegardner, speaking on American Forces Network Radio, encouraged eligible service members, family members and civilian employees to travel to military bases other than their own if the COVID-19 vaccine is available elsewhere.
Yokota, for example, postponed its plan to start inoculating all eligible adults due to a vaccine shortage caused when DOD ordered a pause in administering the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Yokota on its Facebook page this week encouraged is population to sign up for a shot clinic Friday at Yokosuka Naval Base.
The shot is voluntary, Winegardner said, but declining the inoculation prolongs the day when life returns to normal.
“When we start talking, ‘How come we don’t have the freedoms that we used to have?’ talk to those people who are not getting their shots and look at them and say, ‘Hey, you’re part of the problem at this stage,’” he said. “We have shots ready to go at most of the installations, so I can’t stress it enough, please get out there and get that shot in the arm.”