• Kyodo


The Imperial Household Agency is taking precautions against the new coronavirus to protect the emperor and other members of the imperial family from infection as concern grows over the outbreak.

A number of imperial events have already been canceled or postponed, and more are likely to be called off in the coming weeks.

“It is supposed to be a time for the new imperial household to get into motion following a series of succession rites, so it is sad that we have to cancel one event after another,” said an agency official.

The Imperial Palace was closed to the public on the emperor’s 60th birthday on Feb. 23 following the agency’s decision not to have the imperial couple or other family members appear in public.

The Japanese Red Cross Society, where Empress Masako, 56, serves as honorary president, canceled an event on Feb. 28 at which the emperor and empress were scheduled to attend.

“The postponement was proposed as (the Red Cross) sought to avoid any chance of the couple becoming infected, and we accepted the proposal,” said a close aide to the couple.

At least five events involving Crown Prince Akishino, the emperor’s younger brother, and his family have also been canceled or postponed.

Given there are many elderly members in the family, including Emperor Emeritus Akihito, 86, and Empress Emerita Michiko, 85, the agency has taken various steps to guard against the coronavirus.

Agency officials are skipping rush hour commutes and starting to telecommute. Those who need to meet with members of the family wear masks. The agency has also stopped accepting volunteer cleaners at the Imperial Palace and reduced the number of palace tours.

A path on the palace grounds is usually opened to the public during the annual cherry blossom season, but the event, which attracted some 380,000 people last year, has been canceled.

Emperor Naruhito ascended to the chrysanthemum throne on May 1 last year, a day after his father Emperor Emeritus Akihito became the first Japanese monarch in about 200 years to abdicate.

The emperor completed a series of ceremonies accompanying the historic transition in December.

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