TOKYO (AFP) - The Tokyo government urged residents on Wednesday (March 4) to refrain from joining parties at parks during the famed cherry blossom season, in the latest disruption caused by concerns over the coronavirus.
The season, which is expected to start in mid-March, is traditionally celebrated with hanami - or viewing parties - in cherry blossom hot spots, with picnics organised beneath the trees.
The metropolitan government said such events have risks of spreading the virus, which has infected almost 300 people in Japan and killed six.
"It is expected to be crowded at parks and near rivers managed by the Tokyo government during the cherry blossom season," the government said in a statement.
"Please refrain from joining parties that involve food and drinks in order to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus infections."
They said walking to enjoy sakura, or cherry blossom, is fine, but advised people to wear masks if they are coughing.
The affected areas include famous parks in Ueno and Yoyogi and also Sumida river.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has stepped up measures to contain the virus, urging schools to close for several weeks and calling on organisers of large events to consider cancelling or delaying them.
Everything from football matches to music concerts have been affected, while the spring sumo tournament will be held behind closed doors.
Japan's cherry blossom season is feverishly anticipated by locals and visitors alike. Many tourists plan their entire trips around the blooms, and Japanese flock to parks in their millions to enjoy the spectacle.
Cherry blossoms symbolise the fragility of life in Japanese culture, as full blooms last only about a week before the petals start falling off trees.
Weathernews, a weather forecasting firm near Tokyo, predicts the blooming will start on March 17 in Tokyo.