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Coronavirus

In Djibouti, 21 Japan defense force members come down with COVID

Sporting event and large gathering blamed for infection at African base

Gen. Koji Yamazaki, chief of staff of the Joint Staff, speaks to reporters in Tokyo on April 8. (Photo by Junnosuke Kobara)

TOKYO -- Twenty-one members of Japan's Self-Defense Forces in Djibouti have tested positive for COVID-19, said Gen. Koji Yamazaki, chief of staff of the Joint Staff, in a news conference Thursday.

The SDF conducts anti-piracy operations from its base in the East African country. Roughly 130 members participated in a sporting event on March 28, Yamazaki said. Alcoholic beverages were served at a party later, with some members staying until 9:40 p.m.

On March 25, four members who had left the base to purchase supplies then went on to eat together without reporting it. Two have tested positive, but the connection to the meal was not clear.

And 13 people attended an April 1 social gathering, Yamazaki said.

Roughly 180 people are deployed to the base. The infected have been quarantined and are recovering.

Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi ordered a thorough review of the chain of events and for measures to be put in place to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

Yamazaki told reporters that all members go into quarantine and take a PCR test before leaving for Djibouti and that members undergo further tests there. Visits outside the facility are also restricted, he said.

But the general also said he does not want to deny members a chance to relieve stress. "What is important is how we prevent infections," he said.

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