Base in South Korea lifts virus lockdown; parts of Tokyo now open to some US troops
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TOKYO — Reports of new coronavirus cases in Japan’s capital fell to their lowest level since November while those in South Korea’s largest city spiked after the recent New Year holiday there.
New infections in South Korea topped 600 per day after the Lunar New Year weekend on Feb. 12-14, the country’s interior minister, Jeon Hae-cheol, said at a meeting Monday in Seoul. That number had fallen to 313 by midnight Sunday, according to the Central Disease Control Headquarters.
Seoul recorded 102 new patients and Gyeonggi province reported 116. It is home to Camp Humphreys, the largest U.S. base in the country.
Osan Air Base, about 40 miles south of Seoul, returned to its pandemic normal Saturday, a day after its commander declared a lockdown to trace the contacts of a service member who tested positive.
Osan allowed most of its personnel to get back to their weekend routines, save those who had visited a list of hot spots associated with its first service member infected with the coronavirus.
On the list were the outgoing mail area of the base post office from 4 p.m.-4:20 p.m. Feb. 16, the Gingko Tree dining facility from 6:30 p.m.-7:10 p.m. Thursday, and finally on Friday the Starbucks from 9:05 a.m-10:05 a.m. and the LG main phone shop from 10:10 a.m.-10:40 a.m.
The base commander, Col. John Gonzales, declared a shelter-in-place Friday evening, essentially ordering all the 51st Fighter Wing’s population into their homes until public health authorities had traced all the service member’s contacts. The service member attended a large off-base gathering earlier in the week in violation of U.S. military health protection orders and South Korean directives, Gonzales said.
Meanwhile, another air base reported a case of its own Saturday. K-16, an Army airfield in Seongnam city southeast of Seoul, had a soldier test positive after contact with another individual not related to the U.S. military, according to a news release from U.S. Forces Korea.
In Japan, no commands reported new coronavirus infections between 6 p.m. Friday and 6 p.m. Monday.
The Tokyo Metropolitan Government announced on Monday that another 178 people had tested positive, its lowest one-day coronavirus count since 188 on Nov. 24, according to public broadcaster NHK and metro government data.
At Yokota Air Base, the headquarters in western Tokyo of U.S. Forces Japan, the 374th Medical Group on Monday said it expected “small weekly shipments of COVID vaccines until we’ve met the demand for our base population,” according to its Facebook post. COVID-19 is the respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus.
“At this time, we do not know the quantities nor the dates for each shipment, but we will reach out to those next on the prioritization list as the doses become available,” the post said.
On the same day, base commander Col. Andrew Campbell narrowed the area of central Tokyo off-limits to off-duty service members to three downtown wards: Shibuya, Shinjuku and Roppongi, along with the Chinatown area of Yokohama. Defense Department civilian employees, contractors and family members are expected to comply.
Central Tokyo has been off-limits to nearly all U.S. personnel for months.
Campbell left intact a curfew on dining in off-base restaurants anywhere in Tokyo, the three surrounding prefectures and another six in Japan. All 10 are under a state of emergency due to the coronavirus until March 7.
Stars and Stripes reporter Yoo Kyong Chang contributed to this report.