Health ministry staff hold guideline-defying party

Japan's health ministry says a group of its employees held a farewell party at a restaurant, ignoring instructions to avoid such gatherings to prevent coronavirus infections.

The ministry says 23 staff members at its bureau in charge of the healthcare and welfare of elderly people dined together in Tokyo last Wednesday.

The restaurant served alcohol. The participants are said to have conversations without face masks. Some of them are said to have stayed at the restaurant until close to midnight.

The gathering is therefore thought to have fit some of the situations with high risks of infection warned against by a government panel. They include parties with alcohol and dining in a large group or for a long time.

The guidelines say that a dining group of five or more people can heighten the risk of speaking loud and the spread of droplets.

The health ministry had instructed its employees to avoid such situations, although the state of emergency for Tokyo and three nearby prefectures was lifted three days before the farewell party.

The ministry says the party ran counter to its policy and that it will do more to enhance its employees' awareness to prevent a recurrence.