The Imperial Household Agency is considering suspending Emperor Naruhito's annual New Year's event at the Imperial Palace due to mounting fears about a new wave of coronavirus infections, an agency source said Monday.

Japanese Emperor Naruhito, Empress Masako and their predecessors Akihito and Michiko greet the public at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo on Jan. 2, 2020. (Kyodo) ==Kyodo

If realized, it would be the first time the event has been canceled since 1990 when the country was mourning the death the previous year of Emperor Hirohito, grandfather of the current emperor.

The development came as the number of daily novel coronavirus cases in Japan reached a record high of around 1,700 in recent days.

The agency also nixed the emperor's birthday address days before it was scheduled in February because of concern that the public event could lead to a rise in infections as it would draw a large crowd into close confines.

The New Year's event usually takes place on Jan. 2. At this year's event, the first since the current emperor assumed the throne on May 1, 2019, he and Empress Masako, together with Crown Prince Fumihito and his family, greeted some 68,000 well-wishers on five occasions -- three times in the morning and twice in the afternoon.

Among a series of imperial events hosted by the emperor and the empress, the biannual garden parties -- normally held in spring and fall in Akasaka, central Tokyo, to appreciate the work of people who have made distinguished achievements in various fields -- were also canceled due to the virus pandemic.

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