TOKYO (Dispatches) -- Japan’s Okinawa region has declared a state of emergency and asked people to stay home for two weeks as the island which hosts the bulk of U.S. forces in Japan sees an "explosive spread” of coronavirus cases.
Governor Denny Tamaki on Friday asked residents to avoid non-essential outings following a record new daily addition to the southern island’s total cases, the majority of which have been detected among U.S. forces based there.
"We’re seeing an explosive spread of infections. We declare a state of emergency” through August 15, Tamaki told reporters, adding hospitals were being overwhelmed by the surge.
The measures are non-compulsory and without the aggressive enforcement measures seen in Europe, but similar requests from authorities have been widely respected in Japan.
Okinawa reported 71 new coronavirus cases Friday, bringing its total to 395.
U.S. forces account for 248 of those cases, according to the local government, which has created tensions with local officials, including the governor who has said he was "shocked” by the high numbers.
There are approximately 20,000 U.S. Marines in Okinawa, along with thousands more troops from other U.S. military services.
Their presence on the island is a longstanding sore spot, with many in the region arguing they bear a disproportionate share of the burden of hosting American forces.
Many Okinawa residents associate the U.S. military presence with crime, pollution, and accidents and want the entire six bases off the island altogether.
In a closely-watched referendum in Okinawa last year, more than 70 percent of Okinawan voters opposed the relocation and expansion of the U.S. Marines’ Futenma air base to a remote part within the prefecture.
The central government’s plan requires the U.S. air base — which is currently located in a busy and densely-populated part of Okinawa — to be moved to the remote coastal region of Henoko in Nago, some 50 km away.
Opponents of the move say the relocation of the base will not only threaten the area’s delicate marine ecosystem but also endanger its 2,000 local residents.
Over the years, the U.S. bases in Okinawa have drawn countless protests and sit-ins. The election last year of Tamaki, who was born in 1959 to a U.S. Marine father he has never met and a Japanese mother, has injected passionate energy to the anti-American sentiments in Japan.
The U.S. relies on Japan and its other main regional ally South Korea to support efforts to challenge China.