Photo/Illutration The building where the health ministry is located in Tokyo (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

Partying in Ginza until midnight with a large group amid the surging COVID-19 pandemic is never a good idea, particularly if the attendees work for a government ministry responsible for improving public health. 

The health ministry on April 8 said that six of its officials have tested positive for the novel coronavirus, three of whom attended an ill-advised March 24 gathering in Tokyo's Ginza district. The farewell party was held despite the central government warning against such gatherings and urging eateries to close early. 

Health Minister Norihisa Tamura said at a meeting of the Upper House’s Committee on Health, Welfare and Labor on April 8, “Once again, I sincerely apologize.”

Tamura said a public health center is currently investigating the infection route.

“We will cooperate as much as we can and will tell the public what we learn as soon as possible,” Tamura said.

The ministry said the employees belonged to the Health and Welfare Bureau for the Elderly until March 31. One was transferred to an organization outside the ministry as of April 1.

The ministry said three of them attended the farewell dinner party at an “izakaya” restaurant in Ginza, hosted by the bureau’s section that handles geriatric health.

Twenty-three officials attended the gathering to send off staffers who were dispatched from local governments to be trained at the bureau. The party continued until just before midnight, and the attendees did not wear masks while drinking and eating.

According to the ministry, five of the six officials developed high fevers and other symptoms from April 3 to 6. At least four of them had a fever higher than 38.5 degrees.

Other than the six, two employees working at the bureau, who did not attend the party, have developed symptoms such as a high fever. They are waiting for test results, the ministry said.

After the scandal broke, the ministry reprimanded the section chief and 22 officials. Tamura also said he will voluntarily return his salary for two months.