A barbecue party held in a closed, crowded and close-contact setting may have led to the spread of the coronavirus among Ground Self-Defense Force personnel, officials of the Defense Ministry's Ground Staff Office said Monday.
Twenty-nine female GSDF members who participated in an educational course between early July and late September have tested positive for the virus, including one whose infection was confirmed Tuesday. The program was offered at the GSDF's Camp Asaka, which straddles Tokyo and Saitama Prefecture.
The 28 members belong to bases in 15 prefectures, including Hokkaido, Aomori, Iwate, Shizuoka, Nagano, Kyoto, Okayama, Saga and Okinawa. They tested positive on or after last Wednesday, when they returned to their respective bases after finishing the course, which was organized for female personnel, according to the officials.
The barbecue party, joined by 44 personnel, was held in Saitama on Sept. 26, a day off from the course, with the participants using private buses to travel to and from the site.
The GSDF members submitted a notice in advance saying they would be leaving the base, but did not report that they would hold a barbecue party.
"They may have let their guard down," a senior GSDF official said, while noting that the GSDF is investigating the matter.
The Ground Staff Office said, "We are very sorry and offer a heartfelt apology for causing great concern among the general public."
"We will take thorough measures against the novel coronavirus and try to regain trust as soon as possible," it added.