Editor’s note: This story has been updated with a comment from the Marines.
TOKYO — Japan’s defense minister said Tuesday that officials have discovered “a number of problems” with U.S. military measures to guard against the coronavirus among service members stationed in Japan after 95 Marines tested positive at several bases on the southern island of Okinawa.
Okinawan officials on Sunday said most of the cases since early July were at Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, which is at the center of a relocation dispute. Others were at Camp Hansen, Camp Kinser and Camp McTureous.
“We have discovered a number of problems,” Defense Minister Taro Kono said. “We need to more strictly scrutinize the situation with the U.S. military in Japan.”
Kono said the problems were discovered after Japanese officials requested information from the U.S. military. He refused to give details, but said the problems exist at U.S. bases throughout Japan, not just on Okinawa.
In a possible indication of one of the problems, Kono said Japanese officials are inspecting a hotel used by the U.S. military to house service members newly assigned to Okinawa from the U.S. while they undergo a 14-day self-quarantine.
Cases in the military surged 33% in the past 10 days, twice the rate of new cases nationwide.
Okinawan officials and residents have raised concerns about whether adequate safety measures are in place at the hotel.
Okinawa Gov. Denny Tamaki has criticized the U.S. military for a lack of transparency regarding the coronavirus, saying it has caused concern among residents.
Tamaki in telephone talks Saturday with Lt. Gen. H. Stacy Clardy, commander of III Marine Expeditionary Force, demanded the U.S. military increase transparency, improve disease prevention measures, stop sending personnel from the mainland U.S. to Okinawa and seal the bases.
The U.S. military has told Okinawa that all infected people have been isolated and the bases are virtually under lockdown, officials said.
Marine officials say that at the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic, processes were put in place to deal with the eventual spread of this virus.
“Those processes are being executed and all available resources have been applied to preserve our combat readiness and protect our force, families and the local community,” Maj. Ken Kunze, a spokesman, told Marine Corps Times. “Our strict protective measures and contact tracing procedures are thorough and wide-spread and will be in place until we are confident that we have arrested the spread of COVID on Okinawa.”
The Okinawan people, said Kunze, “are gracious hosts and maintaining a strong relationship is key to a strong alliance with the Japanese people.”
Okinawa is home to more than half of about 50,000 American troops based in Japan under a bilateral security pact. Residents have long been sensitive to U.S. base-related problems such as pollution, noise and crime.
Okinawans also oppose a planned relocation of Futenma Air Base from its current site in a densely populated area in the south to a less populated area on the east coast, and instead want the facility removed entirely from the island.
Outside the bases, Okinawa has reported only about 150 coronavirus cases. Nationwide, Japan has confirmed 20,000 cases including about 1,000 deaths.