Salvador Illa, the public face of Spain's fight against the virus, admitted he attended the event in his capacity as health minister but said he had only stayed “for the time necessary” to watch the presentation of an award to the military for its help during the pandemic.
“Once the prize was given, I left, I didn't stay for dinner. Many people didn't realise this and I want to tell them that they are right,” he said during a parliamentary session.
“It's true that the rules were followed and that social distancing was respected, but they're right… it is better to avoid (such events),” he admitted.
“The best distance possible is simply not being there.”
Monday evening's event at a Madrid casino was a fifth birthday bash for online news site El Espanol, to which other ministers and party leaders were also invited.
— Pedro J. Ramírez (@pedroj_ramirez) October 27, 2020
El Espanol said the event, which was attended by 80 people, had complied with “all the health and safety requirements” and was held at a location with a capacity for 240.
— EL ESPAÑOL (@elespanolcom) October 27, 2020
It finished at 11:00 pm, an hour before the curfew which is currently in force in the Spanish capital.
However, images of the “elite” partying stoked widespread criticism on social media, with many remarking on the fact that everyone else must observe the rule of six people maximum for all gatherings of family and friends.
The party took place a day after the government announced a new state of emergency in order to impose a nationwide curfew to slow the spread of the virus, which has claimed more than 35,000 lives and infected more than a million people.
The curfew sparked protests in Barcelona on Monday and in the southern city of Seville a day later where around 100 people set fire to rubbish bins.