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Asia Minute: U.S. military bases in Japan and South Korea wrestle with COVID-19 cases

Kadena Air Base on the southern island of Okinawa, in Japan
Greg Baker/AP
In this Aug. 14, 2012 photo, a U.S. Air Force F-22 Raptor takes off from Kadena Air Base on the southern island of Okinawa, in Japan. (AP Photo/Greg Baker)

Case numbers for COVID-19 are not just climbing in the United States, they are also increasing in many locations overseas. And that includes some key U.S. military bases.

This past weekend, Japan’s Okinawa prefecture reported a record number of new COVID-19 cases.

Okinawa is home to the largest concentration of U.S. military forces in the country — and local residents say there’s a direct connection.

Last month, nearly 200 infections were linked to a single U.S. military base in southern Okinawa.

A week and a half ago, the U.S. and Japan announced an agreement to keep American forces on their bases for two weeks, except for “essential activities.”

In South Korea, U.S. forces have seen a recent spike in cases on military facilities.

The military publication Stars and Stripes reports South Korean health officials are pressuring the U.S. military to increase mitigation efforts against the virus.

The city government where the largest U.S. base in the country is located has ordered mandatory COVID tests for all South Korean citizens who work at the base.

Local media report joint military exercises that usually take place in the early spring may be delayed because of concerns about the virus.

The Chosun Ilbo quotes a South Korean government official as saying there have been more COVID cases among the 28,000 U.S. forces in the country than among more than half a million soldiers in the South Korean military.

Bill Dorman has been the news director at Hawaiʻi Public Radio since 2011.
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