Japan complains to US military after Navy with coronavirus takes commercial flight

A commercial plane parks near a gate at Narita International Airport east of Tokyo on March 9, 2019 (Aaron Kidd / Stars and Stripes)

CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa – The Japanese government filed a complaint with the U.S. military earlier this month after a Marine infected with the coronavirus violated quarantine protocols and traveled from Tokyo to Okinawa on a commercial flight.

“We have asked the US forces in Japan to follow the measures at the border and prevent a recurrence,” Cabinet Secretary General Hirokazu Matsuno told a press conference on Tuesday.

The Marine, in his 20s and assigned to Camp Foster, arrived on October 30 at Narita International Airport east of Tokyo, a spokesperson for the Department of Public Health and Medical Care of the Okinawa Prefecture to Stars and Stripes by phone. He tested positive for COVID-19, the respiratory disease of the coronavirus, at the airport checkpoint.

The Navy was supposed to quarantine itself at Yokota Air Force Base, the U.S. air transport hub in western Tokyo, but instead traveled to Okinawa on a commercial flight the next day, according to the spokesperson. As of Wednesday, no passengers on the flight had contracted the virus.

“He shouldn’t have been on public transport,” the spokesperson said on condition of anonymity. “It shouldn’t happen again. “

The Marine Corps informed prefectural authorities on November 1 that a Marine had visited Okinawa the day before and tested positive on arrival, the spokesperson said. He said the Marine was reportedly vaccinated and asymptomatic.

Japanese officials were taken aback as they believed the Navy was in quarantine at Yokota, also the headquarters of the USFJ, the spokesperson said. He said the Marine falsely told Narita he was posted to Yokota.

“We really don’t know if it was just a mistake or not,” the public health spokesperson said. “That’s why we asked the Japanese government to find out how it happened.”

The USFJ did not respond to an email seeking comment on Wednesday. The III Marine Expeditionary Force referred Stars and Stripes to Marine Corps Installations Pacific, which also did not respond to an email seeking comment.

Yokota is the designated quarantine site for personnel entering Japan under the status of forces agreement who test positive in Narita, the spokesperson said. Narita staff “assumed” that the Marine would be picked up by someone from Yokota and taken away for isolation.

The USFJ contacted the Japanese Foreign Ministry immediately after the incident, a spokesperson for the ministry’s SOFA division told Stars and Stripes on Wednesday, “and we have called on US forces in Japan to prevent this from happening. does not happen again “.

The prefectural public health service has identified 27 passengers seated near the Navy, said the spokesperson for public health.

Prefecture officials sent a letter on Nov. 10 to the Foreign Ministry, the public health spokesperson said. In it, they formally called for an investigation into how the incident happened and implored Tokyo to isolate COVID-positive patients, including U.S. military personnel, in airport quarantines.

The letter also calls on the Japanese government to demand that the USFJ take “effective measures to prevent a recurrence,” cooperate with airport testing and “ensure” that positive cases are isolated.

This is the second dispute between Japan and the U.S. military over U.S. travelers on SOFA violating coronavirus restrictions in Japan.

In July 2020, a family of four boarded a commercial flight from Haneda International Airport in Tokyo to Kintaikyo Airport en route to Marine Corps Air Base Iwakuni. Tests in Haneda later showed that three of the family members were infected with the coronavirus. The family left Japan and was barred from access to US military facilities for 10 years.

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Matthew M. Burke



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