Combating xenophobic rumors and media: Debito.org asks US Forces, Japan for clarification on their COVID testing and vaccination policies

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From: Debito Arudou <debito@debito.org>
Subject: From Debito.org: Questions regarding US Forces, Japan vaccination procedures.
Date: January 13, 2022
To: indopacom.yokota.usfj.mbx.pao@mail.mil (courtesy of this site)
Cc: Shingetsu News Agency <shingetsunewsagency@gmail.com>

To Whom It May Concern,
US Forces, Japan

Dear Sir or Madam,

My name is Debito Arudou, Ph.D., coordinator for Debito.org (www.debito.org), an award-winning online archive for life and human rights in Japan for more than 25 years. We address issues that affect Non-Japanese Residents of Japan, particularly Visible Minorities, and have acted as a launching pad for hundreds of journalistic and academic articles, government and NGO reports, and actions that have changed the course of national narratives and public policies. I am also the author of “Embedded Racism: Japan’s Visible Minorities and Racial Discrimination” (Lexington Books, Second Edition 2022), and am a columnist for the Shingetsu News Agency.

Debito.org has some questions we would like to ask about the policies of US Forces, Japan.

In recent weeks, the Japanese media has portrayed US Forces in Japan as a major vector for infection in Japan, portraying the US military presence in Japan as a leak in their otherwise tight border policies. Consider:

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“Okinawa Gov. Denny Tamaki told reporters on Thursday that ‘U.S. military bases are one of the major causes of the spread of infections,’ while Yamaguchi Gov. Tsugumasa Muraoka said, ‘The fact that (military personnel) were not tested before departure from the United States had a big impact.’ Hiroshima Gov. Hidehiko Yuzaki also called the U.S. military’s measures ‘extremely regrettable.’”
https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2022/01/07/national/anti-us-base-sentiment/
“U.S. military personnel are believed to have triggered a coronavirus resurgence in the three prefectures. Many people in the three prefectures live in close proximity to American bases. Infection prevention measures taken by the U.S. forces, which some have criticized as being too lax, are thought to be behind that explosion of cases.”
https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2022/01/08/national/japan-coronavirus-january8/
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with a public advertisement in Okinawa published by Kyodo News in the Japan Times, showing a Westerner (not an Asian) sneezing:

From https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2022/01/08/national/japan-coronavirus-january8/

As you know, Japan’s border policies for most of the past two years have refused entry to most foreigners, including foreign residents regardless of visa status, while letting in Japanese under often lax quarantine conditions to spread Covid anyway. Yet media and policymakers in Japan have frequently portrayed Covid as an exogenous, “foreign” disease, with the highly problematic interpretation of seeing foreigners as more likely to spread Covid than Japanese.

The World Health Organization last month noted the lack of good science behind that claim, stating that “Epidemiologically, I find it hard to understand the principle there. Does the virus read your passport? Does the virus know your nationality or where you are legally resident? Our concern here is that we apply public health principles, not political principles, to selecting measures that are used to control the spread of diseases. The idea that you can put a hermetic seal on most countries is frankly not possible.” (https://english.kyodonews.net/news/2021/12/28670f8f00db-urgent-kishida-hints-at-review-of-japans-re-entry-restrictions-over-omicron.html)

My point is that the US Military in Japan has a responsibility to dispel rumors and reports that are playing a part in potentially increasing xenophobic attitudes towards foreign residents of Japan.

I understand that you have made an attempt to do so with announcements on your US Forces, Japan, website dated January 5 and 9, 2022:
https://www.usfj.mil/Media/Press-Releases/Article-View/Article/2889890/us-forces-japan-increases-to-health-protection-bravo/and
https://www.usfj.mil/Media/Press-Releases/Article-View/Article/2893181/us-japan-joint-committee-statement-on-measures-to-address-the-spread-of-covid-19/

But please permit me to ask some clarifying questions, for publication on Debito.org:

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1) Pursuant to President Biden’s order that all federal employees and military be vaccinated and tested by February 15 (“as of early December, 92 percent of federal employees and military personnel had received at least one dose”, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2022/01/11/biden-federal-coronavirus-mandate-testing-rules-unvaccinated/), does this mean that all US Forces in Japan, both incoming and resident, have been vaccinated and boosted, and tested for Covid, including the Omicron variant?

2) What happens when members of the US Military test positive for Covid? If in Japan, are they quarantined within the base? If outside Japan, are they denied entry into Japan and quarantined overseas?

3) Do you have any response to the claims within the following reportage in the Japan Times:

“It was revealed in December that U.S. forces had been lax in their border measures against the virus… But it was found that the U.S. side was not conducting pre-departure and post-arrival testing, as required by Japan, and that it had shortened the period of restrictions on arriving personnel’s movement from 14 days to 10. It also allowed people in the restriction period to move freely within U.S. bases.” https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2022/01/07/national/anti-us-base-sentiment/
==================================

I have heard unsubstantiated reports from American military members on social media that US Forces must be properly vaccinated and tested before they arrive in Japan. This would be at odds with what the Japanese media is saying.

Debito.org would welcome your clarifications for the record.

Thank you for reading and responding.

Sincerely, Debito Arudou, Ph.D.
Coordinator, Debito.org
Columnist, Shingetsu News Agency (https://shingetsunewsagency.com)
ENDS

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Why COVID keeps being seen as a “foreign” disease in Japan: Uncritical reportage in the Mainichi of Shizuoka Mayor blaming Omicron on “foreign nationals at work”, claiming it’s not “community transmission”. Wait, let’s parse that.

mytest

Books, eBooks, and more from Debito Arudou, Ph.D. (click on icon):
Guidebookcover.jpgGuidebookcover.jpgjapaneseonlyebookcovertextHandbook for Newcomers, Migrants, and Immigrants to Japan「ジャパニーズ・オンリー 小樽入浴拒否問題と人種差別」(明石書店)sourstrawberriesavatardebitopodcastthumbFodorsJapan2014cover
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Hi Blog. Debito.org has talked about how Japanese officialdom keeps trying to construe COVID as something “foreign”, i.e., something exogenous that affects foreigners more than Japanese people (see here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, herehere, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here for example).  To the point where there’s even a research institute (Riken) speculating that Japanese are genetically less susceptible to COVID.  Seriously.

And that unscientific attitude is reflected in Japanese government policy that treats anyone with a Japanese passport as somehow less contagious than somebody with a foreign passport, regardless of individual vaccination status. (That of course means that a porous border and more lax quarantine rules for VIPs and “Japanese” entrants — including those without Japanese citizenship but WITH Japanese blood — get in and spread the disease anyway.  Omicron is in Japan to stay, brought in by Japanese, no matter how much you’re trying to blame it on, for example, the US Military.)

It’s gotten to the point where even the WHO has decried these policies as unscientific:

(Kyodo News Dec 2, 2021):  Michael Ryan, head of the WHO’s Health Emergencies Program, said of Japan’s ban on new entries of foreigners, “Epidemiologically, I find it hard to understand the principle there. Does the virus read your passport? Does the virus know your nationality or where you are legally resident?  Our concern here is that we apply public health principles, not political principles, to selecting measures that are used to control the spread of diseases. The idea that you can put a hermetic seal on most countries is frankly not possible.”

But one other factor in all this gaijin-bashing is an uncritical media, even from foreigner-friendly media outlets like the Mainichi Shinbun. Where they report unconfirmed statements from a local mayor that people had contact “with foreign nationals” (“kaigai no hito“, or “overseas people” in the original Japanese), and scare the public all over again.

Article follows, then my comment:

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Central Japan prefecture’s 1st omicron case linked to contact with foreigners at job: mayor
December 28, 2021 (Mainichi Japan), courtesy of JK
https://mainichi.jp/english/articles/20211228/p2a/00m/0na/004000c

SHIZUOKA — Following the first confirmed coronavirus omicron variant case in the central Japan city of Shizuoka in Shizuoka Prefecture on Dec. 27, Mayor Nobuhiro Tanabe said at a press conference, “He (the patient) is confirmed to have had contact with foreign nationals at work, and community transmission is unlikely.”

According to the Shizuoka Municipal Government, the patient was earlier confirmed infected with the coronavirus and has mild symptoms. Genome analysis by the National Institute of Infectious Diseases revealed he was positive for the omicron variant. Two people who had had close contact with the man tested negative for the virus.

The patient has no recent history of overseas travel, and came into contact with foreign nationals at work. The city’s public health center explained that it determined the route of infection was strongly suspected to have been via contact at work.

The man received his second coronavirus vaccine by August. He developed symptoms on Dec. 23, was tested the following day, and hospitalized on Dec. 25. He was confirmed positive for the omicron variant the next day.

Other than the two people deemed close contacts, 12 of the 13 people involved in the same work tested negative. One still awaits their results.

(Japanese original by Hideyuki Yamada, Shizuoka Bureau)

静岡市でオミクロン株初確認 海外から来た人と接触 市中感染は否定的
毎日新聞 2021/12/27
https://mainichi.jp/articles/20211227/k00/00m/040/344000c
新型コロナウイルス感染症の変異株・オミクロン株への静岡県内初感染が静岡市で確認された27日、田辺信宏市長は記者会見で「業務上、海外の人と接点が確認されている。市中感染の可能性は低い」と説明した。患者は男性で軽症、市保健所で感染経路を調べている。
市によると、男性は新型コロナの感染が既に確認されていた。国立感染症研究所のゲノム解析でオミクロン株陽性と判明。濃厚接触者2人は陰性だった。
男性患者は海外渡航歴はなく、海外から来た人と業務で接触があった。市保健所は感染経路について「業務上の接触の方を強く疑う状況と判断している」と説明。8月までにワクチンの2回目接種を終えていた。23日に発症、24日に検査を受け、25日に入院。26日にオミクロン株の陽性と分かった。
濃厚接触者以外の仕事関係者13人のうち12人の陰性を確認。1人は検査結果を待っている。【山田英之】

ENDS

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COMMENT: A few more simple questions needed to be asked of Mr. Mayor before his speculation got passed through by the Mainichi editors, and allowed to filter into the public sphere:

  • Were these “overseas people” freshly-arrived in Japan from overseas despite a near-blanket ban on any foreigners at the border?
  • Were these “overseas people” in fact foreign residents who were here anyway, therefore those people are in fact part of “the community” (meaning, yes, “community transmission”).
  • Is there any evidence that these individual “overseas people” were in fact COVID-positive? Were they tested? Was there any other vector testing of other people in the community? Or are we just simply assuming that foreigners are more likely than Japanese to have COVID and leaving it at that?

We should know.  But we don’t.  Why not?  Because the constant and uncritical assumptions that foreigners a) are vectors, and b) are not part of the “Japanese community” at large anyway, are precisely what I mean when I refer to Japan’s Embedded Racism. Presumptions like these are so normalized as to be embedded and unquestioned in Japan, even by media professionals who are supposed to be asking these questions before they let these racist ideas infect and spread throughout society.  Debito Arudou, Ph.D.

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