Health minister apologizes for staff party

Japan's health minister Tamura Norihisa has apologized for a farewell party held by ministry officials despite instructions to avoid such gatherings to prevent coronavirus infections.

It's been learned that 23 officials at the ministry's bureau in charge of the health and welfare of elderly people dined at a restaurant in Tokyo last Wednesday. Some of them are said to have stayed until close to midnight.

Tamura told reporters on Tuesday that 23 is a very large number and that such a gathering defies common sense. He said he's sorry for betraying public trust at a time when the government is asking people to limit their daily activities.

He indicated that he will quickly consider disciplinary steps and firmly reinstate order so that people won't think that it's all right to hold evening parties with many participants because ministry workers are doing so.

Tamura said he will quickly look into whether any similar gatherings have taken place.

Even after the state of emergency ended at the end of March 21 in Tokyo, the metropolitan government is asking eating and drinking establishments to shorten their hours and close by 9 p.m. until April 21.

Prime Minister Suga Yoshihide has also asked people to refrain from gathering in large numbers, although this is the time of year when farewell and welcome parties usually take place.