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Tokyo closes cherry blossom parks to slow spread of virus

TOKYO – 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.”