Tokyo (AFP) – Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida announced Sunday that Tokyo has reached a “fundamental agreement” with Washington to prevent US soldiers from leaving their bases amid growing concerns about a sharp recovery in coronavirus cases.
According to Kishida, the soldiers will remain in their bases “except when absolutely necessary”, which likely means emergencies or other security reasons, and added in a statement to Fuji TV that the two sides are still working on the details of the agreement. The terms of the general security alliances between states remain unchanged.
New daily cases of COVID-19 have recently increased in what medical experts call the “sixth wave”. More than 8,000 daily infections were reported on Saturday, the worst number in four months. The recoil was blamed on the US military because outbreaks were more pronounced near their bases. Last week, Tokyo requested Washington’s cooperation in keeping the military on its bases.
A spokesman for US forces in Japan could not be reached for comment on Kishida’s latest comments. But Major Thomas R. Barger said earlier that the trend of COVID-19 is being closely watched among the ranks of “health protection and operational preparedness” in Japan.
Okinawa, a group of islands in the southwest where most of the 55,000 US troops in the country are located, is one of the three prefectures where new restrictions took effect Sunday to stem the spread of the infection.
The restrictions, which will run through the end of the month, are forcing restaurants to close early, at 8:00 pm or 9:00 pm, and some will have to stop serving alcohol.
The other two affected areas are Yamaguchi, where the Iwakuni base is located, and nearby Hiroshima.
Japan never issued a lockdown decision, but it has gone through periods of varying levels of restrictions that have included school closures and event cancellations, among other measures.
About 80% of Japanese have had two doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, but less than 1% have received a booster dose despite repeated promises from the government to speed up the campaign. Japan has put in place strict border controls, banning most travelers from entering the country, except for returning citizens and residents.
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