(LEAD) Key spring blossom festivals canceled over coronavirus outbreak
(ATTN: UPDATES with latest data in 6th para)
SEOUL, March 3 (Yonhap) -- A string of blossom festivals that symbolize the onset of spring in South Korea have been canceled this year amid the ongoing coronavirus outbreak here.
The city of Changwon, South Gyeongsang Province, said last week that it will cancel this spring's Jinhae Gunhangje Festival, originally set to begin on March 27.
It was the first cancellation of the festival, one of the biggest spring outdoor events in South Korea, in its 58-year history.
Featuring blooming cherry trees in the city and a string of military ceremonies hosted by the Navy's Jinhae naval base, the festival draws up to 4 million visitors from in and outside the country every year.
The decision came as South Korea is struggling to contain the spread of COVID-19. Schools have delayed the opening of the new semester and Protestant and Catholic churches have suspended their Sunday services to prevent further virus infections.
As of Tuesday, South Korea's confirmed coronavirus cases reached 5,186.
"We decided that the top priority should be on protecting the lives and safety of the citizens as well as a prompt termination of the spread of COVID-19," Changwon Mayor Huh Sung-moo said.
Another major cherry blossom fair, Jeju Cherry Blossom Festival, has been canceled for 2020 due to the coronavirus.
The festival annually blocks car traffic on the resort island's cherry tree-lined streets for tourists coming to savor one of the earliest cherry blooms in the country.
According to the Korea Tourism Organization, the Jeju festival will skip this year's event due to concerns about coronavirus infections.
Infection concerns also led to the cancellation of the Gurye Sansuyu Festival, normally hosted by Gurye county, South Jeolla Province, every March.
Taking place in the hot springs resort area of Mount Jiri, the festival features yellow cornelian cherry flowers, called "sansuyu" in Korean, as well as art performances and fireworks.
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