Twenty-three health ministry officials threw a farewell party at an “izakaya” pub in Tokyo’s Ginza district until almost midnight, despite the government’s request for eateries to close early to contain the COVID-19 pandemic, the ministry revealed.
Health minister Norihisa Tamura on March 30 apologized deeply for betraying public trust.
“I’m extremely sorry for the blunder at a government office that is asking (the public to refrain from holding cherry blossom viewing parties, farewell and welcome parties, and graduation trips),” Tamura said. “Twenty-three people attended the party at a time when we’re urging the public not to have (a meal involving) even only five or six people. This is unacceptable.”
The party was held by staff members of the Health and Welfare Bureau for the Elderly, which oversees the nursing care insurance program at the ministry, a ministry official said.
It started at around 7 p.m. on March 24 and the number of participants kept growing, reaching 23 at one time. The party ended a little before midnight.
An official of the bureau apologized for the staff members’ actions. The ministry will consider punishing those who attended the party, a ministry official said.
The Tokyo metropolitan government is asking bars and restaurants to shut by 9 p.m. until April 21, even though the central government lifted the second COVID-19 state of emergency for Tokyo and three neighboring prefectures on March 21.
But the last participant of the party left the pub shortly before midnight, according to a ministry official.
The central government is urging the public to refrain from dining out for long periods, drinking heavily and holding farewell and welcome parties to prevent a resurgence of infections.
The government is also recommending that people limit gatherings for eating to only members of the same family or to no more than four people as the risk of infection rises along with the number of participants.
The size of the party held by staff members of the bureau, however, far exceeded that number.