The annual Sapporo Snow Festival, one of Japan's biggest winter events held in the northernmost main island of Hokkaido around February, will be canceled for the first time since its inception in 1950 amid a surge in novel coronavirus infections, its organizers said Monday.

The festival, which usually features large snow and ice statues in the city center, will instead focus on disseminating online historical information about the event as well as the city's winter charms. The boulevard currently decorated with Christmas lights will be lit up for an extended period of time, according to the organizers.

Photo taken Feb. 4, 2020, the first day of the annual Sapporo Snow Festival in the northern Japan city, shows a snow sculpture featuring Ainu, an indigenous people in Japan's northernmost main island of Hokkaido. (Kyodo) ==Kyodo

"It's a shame, but it's an unavoidable (decision) in light of the situation," they said.

The celebrated event, which normally sees around 2 million domestic and overseas visitors every year, generates approximately 65 billion yen ($625 million).

It often features large snow sculptures, around 15 meters tall, modeled after famous characters or foreign architectural landmarks carved by members of Japan's Ground Self-Defense Force and others.

Although the festival was held this year from Feb. 4 to 11 attendance plunged by around 710,000 compared with last year to 2.02 million in the wake of bans imposed by the Chinese government on group travel overseas amid the coronavirus pandemic.

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