Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said the country had reached “a basic deal” to impose restrictions on the US military amid growing concerns over a sharp rise in coronavirus cases.
Mr. Kishida said US soldiers would remain on the base “except in case of absolute necessity”, which presumably means for emergencies or other security reasons.
Details of the deal are still being worked out, he told Fuji TV, but the US-Japan comprehensive security alliance remains unchanged.
Daily cases of Covid-19 have recently increased in what medical experts are calling ‘the sixth wave’.
New infections topped 8,000 on Saturday, a record in four months.
The spike was blamed on the US military as increases in cases are more pronounced in areas near bases. Japan asked for the cooperation of the United States to keep its military personnel at the base last week.
A spokesperson for US forces in Japan was not immediately available to comment on Mr. Kishida’s final remarks.
But Major Thomas R Barger said Covid trends were being closely watched within the ranks for “health protection and operational readiness.”
Okinawa, a group of southwestern islands that is home to most of the 55,000 US troops in Japan, is one of three prefectures where new restrictions to curb the spread of infections took effect on Sunday.
The measures, which last until the end of the month, force restaurants to close early, at 8 or 9 p.m., and some must stop serving alcohol.
Government-backed restrictions also came into effect in Yamaguchi Prefecture, where Iwakuni’s base is located, and near Hiroshima.
The Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, which documents the US atomic bombing of Japan at the end of World War II, and Hiroshima Castle are both closed to visitors.
Other regions may order similar regulations if cases continue to increase.
People have been warned to stay at home and avoid travel. Until recently, bars, shrines and shopping districts were packed with year-end shoppers and New Year’s travelers.
Japan has never had a lockdown, but it has endured periods of varying levels of restrictions, including school closings and event cancellations.
About 80% of the Japanese population has received two doses of a vaccine.
Boosters have barely started up, with less than 1% of them receiving them, despite repeated promises from the government to speed up their deployment.
Japan has strict border controls in place, banning most inbound travel except residents and returning citizens.
The country has reported around 18,300 Covid-related deaths to date. In recent days, there have been only one or two deaths, and some days zero.