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Tokyo closes cherry blossom parks to slow spread of virus

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A security person stands guard at the famed street of cherry blossoms which is closed as a safety precaution against the new coronavirus at Ueno Park in Tokyo Friday, March 27, 2020. The new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms for most people, but for some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness or death.(AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)

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TOKYO (AP) — Japan’s cherry blossoms are in full bloom, but flower viewing has come to an abrupt halt in Tokyo because of the coronavirus.

Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike has repeatedly asked the city’s 13 million residents to stay home this weekend, saying the capital is on the brink of an explosion in virus infections. She warned of a possible hard shutdown of the city if the spread of the virus doesn’t slow.

On Friday evening, access was blocked to Ueno Park, a favorite spot for “hanami,” or cherry blossom viewing. Signs said “No parties” and “Danger no entry.”

The empty park was a sharp change from last weekend, when people came in droves after the central government announced an end to national school closures, leading many to think that the outbreak was under control, when it was actually worsening in the capital.

Koike repeated her stay-at-home request Friday, asking Tokyoites to postpone their flower viewing until next year. “The cherry blossoms will surely bloom next year. Our priority right now is to overcome this difficult time,” she said.

Amusement parks, zoos and aquariums, as well as some coffee shops and department stores, will be closed for the weekend. Officials are particularly concerned about asymptomatic young people spreading the virus.

Daichi Harada was with his dog getting some fresh air in the park after being at home for an extended period.

“Tokyo ordered us to stop cherry blossom viewing,” he said as left. “It’s our duty to stay home.”

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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