SDF suspects group events behind Djibouti outbreak

The head of Japan's Self-Defense Forces says more than 100 personnel from a coronavirus-hit unit in the African nation of Djibouti took part in large-scale events late last month. The Defense Ministry suspects the events may have been behind the spread of the infection.

SDF Chief of Staff General Yamazaki Koji made the statement on Thursday regarding the unit engaged in an anti-piracy mission off Somalia. The ministry says 21 of the unit's members have tested positive for the virus.

Yamazaki said about 130 of the unit's approximately 180 personnel participated in a sports event on March 28. An hour-long party was held later in the day.

He said some participants did not wear masks, and that alcohol beverages were served at the party, with some members continuing to drink afterward.

The ministry said the events were held for the physical and mental health of the unit's members.

The ministry said the people confirmed to be infected are in stable condition and have been quarantined in their barracks. It added that the unit's mission has not been compromised at this stage.

The ministry said four of the unit's personnel dined at an eatery on March 25 while out on duty. Two of them were later confirmed infected. It said they had failed to ask permission for the session, as required.

The ministry also said 13 members of the unit held a two-hour drinking party on April 1.

The ministry has banned SDF members in Japan from dining in groups, but has not set any specific rules for units overseas.

Yamazaki said the unit was careless. He stressed the need to find out why such group dining sessions took place, and to take thorough anti-virus measures.