Local authorities in Japan are sacrificing tens of thousands of flowers to deter visitors, as the country attempts to contain the coronavirus outbreak.
Tiptoeing through the tulips or breathing in the scent of roses are popular spring rites in Japan, but there is concern that flower festivals could become the source of new infection clusters.
This week workers began severing the buds of about 3,000 rose bushes at Yono park in Saitama, north of Tokyo, in an attempt to keep flower viewers away.
The local government had already cancelled the annual rose festival, but the park is still open to the public, prompting the decision to rid the venue of its main attraction – 180 varieties of rose bushes that reach their peak from around the middle of May.
“It’s very painful, but we decided to take action after looking at the situation in other cities,” a local official told the Mainichi newspaper, adding that it would take about a week to remove all the buds.
Japan reported more than 430 new coronavirus cases on Thursday, bringing the country’s total to more than 10,000, public broadcaster NHK quoted health ministry officials as saying. The virus has killed more than 300 people in Japan, with 29 deaths reported on Thursday.
Those figures do not include 712 infections and 13 deaths linked to the Diamond Princess cruise ship, which was quarantined in Yokohama in February.
The prime minister, Shinzo Abe, declared a state of emergency on 7 April, encouraging people to avoid unnecessary outings and to observe social distancing. The governor of Tokyo, Yuriko Koike, on Thursday urged residents in the capital to shop for food less frequently to reduce the risk of spreading the virus at supermarkets and shopping arcades, many of which remain crowded.
arcade[ɑːrˈkeɪd]: n. （购物）拱廊；有拱廊的街道
Koike said the 12 days starting from Saturday – a period that includes the Golden Week public holidays – would be an opportunity for the city’s 13.4 million people to “stay home and save lives”.
The move to prune the roses hasn’t gone down well with some residents. “The roses at their best are worth seeing every year,” a 76-year-old man who regularly visits the park, told the newspaper. “I think it’s a waste, but we have no choice.”
In Sakura, a town 50km east of Tokyo, officials razed more than 100,000 tulip stems and cancelled its annual festival after crowds defied social distancing guidelines during the coronavirus emergency.
“Many visitors came at the weekend when the flowers were in full bloom,” Sakiho Kusano, a local tourism official, told Reuters. “It became a mass gathering, so we had no choice but to make the decision to cut the flowers.”
Flower lovers will have to wait until next year to see the pink and red tulips carpeting the 7,000-square-metre Sakura Furusato Hiroba venue.
“It’s, very, very unfortunate. My mood sank when I saw this,” park visitor Misako Yonekubo said.
The cut flowers have not gone to waste, however. Officials said they had been donated to local kindergartens.