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HOME  > Past issues  > 2020 April 15 - 21  > SDF units in Djibouti do not have coronavirus testing equipment
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2020 April 15 - 21 [POLITICS]

SDF units in Djibouti do not have coronavirus testing equipment

April 20, 2020
The Defense Ministry has admitted that PCR testing for the coronavirus is not still available at a Self-Defense Force base in Djibouti in eastern Africa, Akahata reported on April 20. The site is a key foothold for SDF activities in the Middle East.

The report highlights the ill-preparedness for the COVID-19 outbreak among SDF members engaged in overseas missions in the Middle East. The government’s neglect of responsibility is called into question.

The SDF base in Djibouti has been used for anti-piracy activities since 2009. In addition, in January this year, the Abe government dispatched additional SDF units there under the pretext of conducting “information collection activities” in the sea near the Middle East. Currently, 560 SDF officers, two escort vessels, and two P-3C surveillance airplanes are stationed at the base.

On April 3, it was revealed by Japanese Communist Party lawmaker Kokuta Keiji’s questioning in a Lower House Committee meeting that one of the two escort ships in Djibouti, “Takanami”, does not carry medical gear or equipment for conducting the coronavirus test. The Takanami left Japan in February when public concern over the COVID-19 outbreak was growning in Japan.

In response to an Akahata inquiry about the current situation at the SDF base in Djibouti, the Defense Ministry said that SDF personnel there do not have access to PCR tests. The ministry added that it is considering sending testing kits to the base and asking other nations’ military forces stationed nearby to provide their testing equipment to the SDF troops.

Djibouti is also affected by the coronavirus pandemic. According to the World Health Organization, 732 infection cases, including two deaths, were reported in the country as of April 18. All international flights have been suspended there since the end of March.

Nevertheless, Defense Minister Kono Taro at a press conference on April 14 expressed his intent to continue SDF “information gathering activities” in the Middle East.

An outbreak of an infectious disease on a military ship can cause a major health crisis among the crew as they are packed into a limited space. In fact, a mass infection of COVID-19 took place separately on aircraft carriers of the U.S. and France. A similar incident occurred on the escort ship “Yudachi” in 1981 when 80% of the 250 crewmembers on board caught the flu within a 2-week period.

As part of government efforts to combat COVID-19, many SDF members in Japan are engaged in support activities, including transportation and assistance for COVID-19 patients with mild symptoms. The government should withdraw SDF units from the Middle East in order for them to concentrate on activities to bring the corona crisis in Japan under control.

Past related article:
> JCP Kokuta criticizes gov’t for having SDF ship stay in Middle East without coronavirus preparation [April 4, 2020]
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