Bon Odori dancers wear masks during a festival at Camp Zama, Japan, Saturday, Aug. 6, 2022.

Bon Odori dancers wear masks during a festival at Camp Zama, Japan, Saturday, Aug. 6, 2022. (Claire Jenq/Stars and Stripes)

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CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — Okinawans should stay close to home this week to forestall further spread of COVID-19, the prefecture’s governor said on the eve of the Obon holiday.

Although daily case numbers have fallen recently, the coronavirus’ seventh wave has yet to peak on the island prefecture, Gov. Denny Tamaki said at a news conference Tuesday.

Okinawa logged 4,289 new infections that day, down by 1,305 from the 5,594 cases on Aug. 2, according to the prefecture’s COVID-19 tracking website. The prefecture reported a pandemic daily record of 6,180 new cases Aug. 3, reported public broadcaster NHK.

“Although the numbers have shown a slight downward trend, I don't think we have peaked since we are reaching the time when there will be more movement by people, such as Obon,” Tamaki said Tuesday in Naha.

Bon Odori dancers wear masks during a festival in Nakano, Tokyo, Saturday, Aug. 6, 2022.

Bon Odori dancers wear masks during a festival in Nakano, Tokyo, Saturday, Aug. 6, 2022. (Aaron Kidd/Stars and Stripes)

In Japanese culture, Obon is a holiday when the spirits of departed ancestors visit their families, typically a time for family gatherings. This year, Obon is being observed on Okinawa through Friday.

The decline in case numbers is due to people staying indoors and away from crowded shopping areas, Tamaki said. He urged people to remain home though the Obon period.

“We need to continue our efforts to prevent spreading the infection,” he said.

Tamaki declared an emergency on July 21, calling on the local population to mask up, refrain from nonessential outings, limit outdoor dining to small groups and avoid visiting at-risk populations like those with preexisting conditions or the elderly.

The U.S. military urged its population to observe the local order.

Okinawa remains highest of the 47 prefectures for per capita cases of the coronavirus respiratory disease, according to a prefectural statement Tuesday. It recorded 2,322.71 cases per 100,000 people as of Monday, followed by Osaka prefecture with 1,593.9 cases per 100,000, according to the prefectural Department of Public Health and Medical Care.

Okinawa hospitals reported 84.4% of the prefecture’s available beds were occupied by COVID-19 patients on Tuesday. Of those, more than a third are in serious condition, according to prefectural data.

The U.S. military on Okinawa reported 65 cases on Tuesday, along with 11 civilian base employees, according to the public health department. The U.S. military population on Okinawa has recorded 19,891 cases since the pandemic started in March 2020.

New cases of COVID-19 across Japan peaked Aug. 3 at 249,708 and declined afterward to 137,722 on Monday, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center.

Although this wave, predominately the BA.5 subvariant of omicron, broke pandemic records for new case numbers, it is less deadly than preceding waves. Recent deaths peaked at 214 on Aug. 5, according to the center’s data online.

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Matthew M. Burke has been reporting from Okinawa for Stars and Stripes since 2014. The Massachusetts native and UMass Amherst alumnus previously covered Sasebo Naval Base and Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan, for the newspaper. His work has also appeared in the Boston Globe, Cape Cod Times and other publications.
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Hana Kusumoto is a reporter/translator who has been covering local authorities in Japan since 2002. She was born in Nagoya, Japan, and lived in Australia and Illinois growing up. She holds a journalism degree from Boston University and previously worked for the Christian Science Monitor’s Tokyo bureau.

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