• Jiji, Kyodo

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The health ministry said Thursday that three of the 23 ministry workers who came under fire for holding a late-night farewell party last month have tested positive for the coronavirus.

On March 24, the 23 workers, who all belonged to the ministry’s division in charge of health for older people, including then-division head Kaoru Manabe, gathered at an izakaya pub in Tokyo. The party ran from around 7:15 p.m. to 11:50 p.m., even though the Tokyo Metropolitan Government has requested that restaurants and bars in the capital close by 9 p.m. through April 21 as a measure against the coronavirus. Most of the attendees talked to each other without wearing masks, officials have said.

The government’s coronavirus task force also recommends limiting dining to a maximum of four people from a close circle, such as family members and colleagues, while the ministry has asked people to accept restrictions in their daily lives amid the pandemic

The ministry on March 30 punished Manabe with a pay cut of 10% for one month and moved him to the health minister’s Secretariat.

Health, Labor and Welfare Minister Norihisa Tamura has said the large farewell party held in the glitzy Ginza district had “betrayed the people’s trust,” adding he would voluntarily return his pay as a Cabinet minister over the issue.

Opposition lawmakers have criticized the gathering, with Jun Azumi, the Diet affairs chief of the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, saying it was “outrageous” and indicating Tamura should be held accountable.

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