A volunteer guide provides a tour to visitors masked and socially distanced against the coronavirus at Yokosuka Naval Base, Japan, on Nov. 8, 2020.

A volunteer guide provides a tour to visitors masked and socially distanced against the coronavirus at Yokosuka Naval Base, Japan, on Nov. 8, 2020. (Morgan Over/U.S. Navy)

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TOKYO – Three U.S. military bases in Japan reported 57 new coronavirus cases as of 6 p.m. Wednesday as the year staggered to a close.

December has emerged as Japan’s worst month of the pandemic, far surpassing the country's previous records for new infections and deaths. A record high 1,110 people have died in Japan so far this month, according to Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center, and a record 74,824 new infections were identified.

In Tokyo, the virus produced another 944 newly infected people Wednesday, five shy of the city’s pandemic daily record of 949 set Saturday, according to public broadcaster NHK. Nearly 800 people per day in the city of 13.5 million have tested positive during the final week of December, according to Tokyo Metropolitan Government data.

U.S. Forces Japan finishes the year with about 200 people currently infected out of a population of about 110,000 that includes service members, Defense Department civilians and family members, Chief Master Sgt. Richard Winegardner Jr. said Tuesday on American Forces Network Radio. Only two were hospitalized during the pandemic, he said, neither of them in critical condition.

“We’ve been very successful here in Japan because of everyone’s adherence to social distancing, washing your hands, wearing your mask,” said Winegardner, the USFJ senior enlisted leader. “We’ve had a very low rate.”

Yokosuka Naval Base, homeport south of Tokyo of the U.S. 7th Fleet, on Wednesday reported 43 individuals infected since Dec. 22. The base has 78 people with the virus under observation, according to a news release.

Yokosuka reported 27 of its new cases are individuals associated with the U.S. military who tested positive during contact tracing. Another nine tested positive after showing symptoms of COVID-19, the respiratory disease associated with the virus; three more had recently arrived in Japan; and one tested positive during a medical screening.

Contact tracing found three base employees were also infected, according to the release.

Base commander Capt. Rich Jarrett in a Facebook video Dec. 17 chided his subordinates for cheating on coronavirus restrictions and sending hundreds of their colleagues into precautionary quarantine as a result. During Christmas week about 350 sailors were quarantined at Yokosuka, about 110 for a time on the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan.

The naval base took a softer tone in a Facebook post Wednesday. It said “a number of people” among the new cases tested positive after returning from leave in the local area.

“The community is reminded to abide by the health protection policies while on both leave or liberty,” the release stated.

Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, 500 miles west of Tokyo, reported six new cases Wednesday for a second consecutive day, according to a Facebook post. The air base on Saturday stopped saying how its new infections originated.

Kadena Air Base on Okinawa reported seven people tested positive Wednesday, all of them while in quarantine after travel outside Japan, according to a Facebook post. Two of the patients had become ill with COVID-19 symptoms, the base said.

Late Tuesday the base reported that one person tested positive for the virus. That person has been quarantined since Dec. 19 after contact with an infected family member, according to a Facebook post.

Japan has fared better than other nations during the pandemic, although 223,786 people have contracted the virus and 3,152 have died, a mortality rate of 1.4%, according to Johns Hopkins.

By comparison, Britain, with a bit less than half of Japan’s population, has reported 2.3 million cases and 71,217 deaths during the pandemic, according to Johns Hopkins. That’s 10 times the number of infections in Japan and 23 times the number of deaths. Twitter: @JosephDitzler

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Joseph Ditzler is a Marine Corps veteran and the Pacific editor for Stars and Stripes. He’s a native of Pennsylvania and has written for newspapers and websites in Alaska, California, Florida, New Mexico, Oregon and Pennsylvania. He studied journalism at Penn State and international relations at the University of Oklahoma.

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