Cherry blossoms along the Potomac River in Washington have reached peak bloom, but drew fewer visitors than usual on Saturday as the United States struggles to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus.

The coronavirus pandemic has led to the cancellation of many of the events planned for the annual National Cherry Blossom Festival, including the opening ceremony that was slated the same day.

Local authorities have called on visitors to practice "social distancing" and stay at least 2 meters away from others. The measure is considered vital to slow the spread of the virus and COVID-19, the disease it causes.

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A live video feed of the cherry blossoms has been provided through the website of a nonprofit group that takes care of the trees to allow those unable to visit to still enjoy the scene.

The cherry blossoms serve as a reminder of the friendship between the United States and Japan. In 1912, about 3,000 nursery cherry trees were gifted to Washington by Tokyo's then-mayor, Yukio Ozaki.

The National Cherry Blossom Festival, which is held to commemorate the gift, dates back to 1927. The only other time the festival was disrupted was during World War II, according to a spokesperson for the organizer.

Usually about 1.5 million people visit the capital around the time of the festival. This year, the blossoms peaked on Friday, the earliest since 2012 when the peak came also on March 20, according to the National Park Service.