Environment Minister Shinjiro Koizumi on Wednesday expressed regret for skipping a government meeting on the coronavirus outbreak in favor of a new year party held by a group of his supporters in his hometown.

“I sincerely accept the opinion that it was problematic for me to put priority on the local event, and I regret my action,” he told a meeting of the Lower House Budget Committee.

Koizumi, a member of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, made the remark in response to questions from opposition lawmakers. But the minister rejected their demand that he apologize.

On Sunday, the government held a meeting of its task force for the outbreak in Japan. Although all Cabinet ministers are members of the body, Koizumi was absent while attending the party held the same day in Yokosuka, Kanagawa Prefecture. The city is also part of his Lower House constituency.

At a meeting of the same Lower House committee on Tuesday, Koizumi defended his participation in the party, saying that Parliamentary Vice Environment Minister Tetsuya Yagi attended the government meeting on his behalf and that this was “in accordance with the government’s crisis management rules.”

Jun Azumi, Diet affairs chief of the main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, has criticized Koizumi, saying his behavior was tantamount to “abandoning his responsibility as a Cabinet minister.”

“Presenting opinions at the government meeting is a duty of a minister,” Nobuyuki Baba, secretary-general of the opposition Nippon Ishin no Kai, said, calling his participation in the party into question.

While some government officials defended Koizumi, a senior LDP member who previously served as a minister criticized Koizumi for his lack of seriousness.

An executive of Komeito, the LDP’s coalition partner, rapped Koizumi for failing to have a sufficient sense of responsibility.

Aside from Koizumi, Justice Minister Masako Mori — speaking at Wednesday’s Budget Committee meeting — also admitted skipping Sunday’s government task force meeting, as she took part in the opening ceremony for a calligraphy exhibition held the same day in Fukushima, her home prefecture. She said she regrets her behavior.

Education minister Koichi Hagiuda also confessed his failure to attend the meeting, saying that he participated in an event to celebrate a local fire squad chief who was given an award.

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