Health ministry division chief removed over late-night party

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The health ministry has effectively removed a division chief from his post over a late-night farewell party that was held among 23 people from the ministry last week amid rising coronavirus cases.

The ministry said Tuesday that Kaoru Manabe, chief of the Division of the Health for the Elderly at the ministry’s Health and Welfare Bureau for the Elderly, who organized the party, will have his pay cut by 10% for one month and that he was moved to the minister’s Secretariat the same day.

Health minister Norihisa Tamura will voluntarily return two months of his pay as a Cabinet minister over the issue.

Of the 22 remaining participants in the party, 19 were given warnings, while the three others were not punished because they are working for the ministry as trainees from local governments.

Vice health minister Hideki Tarumi was slapped with a strong warning for failing to properly supervise his staff at the ministry. Eiji Habu, head of the Health and Welfare Bureau for the Elderly, received a milder warning.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga told reporters that “I sincerely apologize” for the late-night party. He also said Tamura has instructed officials of his ministry to take measures to ensure that no such party will be held again.

According to the ministry, the farewell party among the 23 people, including Manabe, who all belong to the Division of the Health for the Elderly, was held at an izakaya pub in Tokyo on Wednesday last week.

While the Tokyo Metropolitan Government is requesting restaurants and bars in the Japanese capital to close by 9 p.m. as a measure against the coronavirus, they looked for a place that would stay open until after 9 p.m. The party was held between around 7:15 p.m. and 11:50 p.m.

In an effort to prevent the spread of the virus, the government has been calling on the public not to hold welcome and farewell parties or have meals among five or more participants.

Manabe said during the ministry’s probe on the late-night party in question that he is sorry for causing trouble to the entire ministry for his careless and thoughtless behavior.

“I apologize for the betrayal of public trust by officials of the ministry, which is asking people to exercise self-restraint in their daily lives,” Tamura told a news conference Tuesday.

The ministry also said it has confirmed that two other dining sessions, participated by five and six ministry employees, respectively, were held in late March. Although the sessions ended by 9 p.m., the ministry will investigate details of the events.

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