TOKYO (AFP) - Japan said on Monday (Feb 17) that 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 cancelled."
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 elderly and those with pre-existing conditions to avoid crowded places," he said.
The birthday gathering on Feb 23 was cancelled as local media also reported that the amateur section of the Tokyo Marathon, scheduled for March 1, would be cancelled.
"We have no formal decision to announce yet. We are studying and once a decision is made we will announce it, by today," a spokesman for the organisers 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 cancelled was in 1996, after hostages were taken at the Japanese embassy in Peru during an event to mark the monarch's birthday.