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Japan plans to put Okinawa under a near state of emergency as Covid-19 infections on the southern island chain hit a record in an outbreak of officials publicly linked to US military bases.

Two other prefectures – Hiroshima and Yamaguchi – were also subject to the same state of emergency, giving local governments the power to restrict the opening hours of restaurants and bars. The measures, the first declared in Japan since September, are effective from Sunday until, provisionally, January 31.

Concern is growing that the same is true for Tokyo and other major cities as the number of daily cases increases. Tokyo recorded 922 cases on Friday, the first time the level has crossed 900 since mid-September. This is 12 times more than on the same day the previous week.

The move to impose restrictions on Okinawa, Hiroshima and Yamaguchi prefectures comes amid rhetoric from politicians in the worst-affected areas seeking to blame the spread of the Omicron variant on U.S. military bases.

The central government has sought to play down that link, although it asked the United States on Thursday to take more extensive measures to limit the spread at military bases, including by imposing curfews.

The three prefectures are home to US military bases. Denny Tamaki, Governor of Okinawa, told reporters on Thursday that there was “no doubt” that one of the main causes of the Omicron’s spread was the US military base.

The prefecture, where 70% of US military installations in Japan are located, was the hardest hit by the latest wave of Covid-19, recording a record 1,414 daily cases on Friday.

Tsugumasa Muraoka, governor of Yamaguchi, said U.S. bases exempting inspection of personnel from the United States could have had a significant impact on the spread of the virus.


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