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Monday, 04 March 2024
Japan cancels Emperor Naruhito’s public birthday celebrations amid virus fears
Japan's Emperor Naruhito and Empress Masako wave to well-wishers from the balcony of the Imperial Palace during a New Year's greeting ceremony in Tokyo on January 2, 2020. (File photo AFP)

Japan said Monday it would cancel a public gathering to celebrate the birthday of new Emperor Naruhito, as fears grow over the spread of the new coronavirus in the country.

“In light of various situations, we have decided to cancel the visit by the general public to the palace for His Majesty’s birthday,” the imperial household agency said in a statement a day after the government warned people to avoid crowds and “non-essential gatherings.”

“His Majesty’s appearance in the morning, as well as the public signing of the greeting book, will be canceled.”

At least 60 people in Japan have so far been diagnosed with the virus, with Health Minister Katsunobu Kato warning on Sunday that the nation was “entering a new phase” of the outbreak.

“We want to ask the public to avoid non-urgent, non-essential gatherings. We want the elderly and those with pre-existing conditions to avoid crowded places,” he said.

The birthday gathering on February 23 was canceled as local media reported that the amateur section of the Tokyo Marathon, scheduled for March 1, would be canceled.

“We have no formal decision to announce yet. We are studying and once a decision is made we will announce it, by today,” a spokeswoman for the organizers told AFP.

The birthday celebration for Emperor Naruhito was to be the first since he took the throne last year.

The last time the gathering was canceled was in 1996 after hostages were taken at the Japanese embassy in Peru during an event to mark the monarch’s birthday.

source: AFP