The planned state visit by Emperor Naruhito and Empress Masako to Britain in the second quarter of this year will be postponed due to the new coronavirus outbreak, Japan's top government spokesman said Thursday.
"In view of the spread of new coronavirus infections in the world, we have judged it appropriate for us to rearrange the timing of the visit in consultation with the British government," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said at a press conference.
Despite the plan change, the state visit, at the invitation of Queen Elizabeth II, will likely be the first overseas trip by the imperial couple since Emperor Naruhito took the throne in May, Suga said.
The announcement came as the focus of the global viral outbreak has shifted to Europe, prompting many governments to call on people to stay indoors and impose travel restrictions to contain COVID-19, the illness caused by the new virus.
In Japan, the government decided Wednesday to cancel banquets originally planned for April to celebrate Crown Prince Fumihito's ascent to first in line to the Chrysanthemum Throne.
Emperor Naruhito is the first Japanese emperor to have studied abroad, at the University of Oxford, and Empress Masako is a Harvard- and Oxford-educated former Japanese diplomat.
During the state visit, the emperor and empress were to stay at Windsor Castle, 34 kilometers west of London, where the queen often spends her private weekends.