Japanese Defence Minister, Taro Kono, on Friday , called on the United States to conduct coronavirus testing on all U.S. military personnel coming to Japan.
The called comes after an outbreak of the virus that hit U.S. bases in the southernmost prefecture of Okinawa.
Kono told a press briefing on the matter that the defence ministry has requested that U.S. military personnel bound for Japan take one test prior to leaving the United States and one upon arrival in Japan.
“With so many asymptomatic people, PCR testing is a must”, Kono said, adding that tests needed to be carried out, without exception, on military personnel before leaving the United States and coming to Japan.
Kono said the U.S. side has said it is considering the request.
Okinawa Gov. Denny Tamaki has also asked the U.S. side to clarify whether or not they are taking the necessary virus prevention measures while based in Okinawa, including two-week quarantine measures where necessary.
Tamaki has also called for the Japan-U.S. Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) to be reviewed as U.S. military personnel are exempt from Japan’s quarantine rules and travel bans.
On Thursday, the U.S. Marine Corps Camp Hansen in Okinawa reported 58 new coronavirus cases, the Okinawa prefectural government said.
It added that while 73 cases have been linked to U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, an additional five were confirmed at Kadena Air Base, and one each at Camp McTureous and Camp Kinser, officials said.
The total number of COVID-19 cases at U.S. military bases in Okinawa stood at 138 on Thursday, the prefectural government said, adding that amid fears of the virus spreading to the local population, an elderly taxi driver had tested positive for COVID-19.
The driver, in his 80s, was known to have had contact with U.S. military personnel, officials said.
Earlier in the week, Tamaki met with Japanese and U.S. government officials in Tokyo to relay his concerns over the U.S. military-linked virus outbreaks on the island.
Tamaki has urged the central government to suspend U.S. military transfers to Okinawa as soon as possible.
Prior to the suspensions, he has urged that all U.S. military personnel coming to Japan undergo PCR tests.
Okinawa hosts the bulk of U.S. military facilities in Japan, and Kono, meanwhile, has said that without enhancing testing measures, U.S. military personnel in Okinawa infected with the virus but asymptomatic, could pass on the virus unknowingly.
He said apart from risking infecting the local community in Okinawa, Kono said it is also important for the U.S. to protect its own personnel from the virus spreading further on U.S. bases in Okinawa.