Sapporo Festival scales down due to coronavirus pandemic

The Thai team wins the Sapporo International Snow Sculpture championship title for the third consecutive year with their exhibit of sea turtles in a human hand on Feb 7,2020. (Photo from Hokkaidofanclub Facebook account)

The annual snow festival held in the northern Japanese city of Sapporo in February will be scaled down next year with the sculpting of large-scale ice statues cancelled due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, organisers has said.

Getting support from sponsor companies to create the massive sculptures, a highlight of the event, will be difficult while the virus outbreak shows few signs of being contained, according to the festival's organising committee.

As preparations for the festival usually begin around June, organisers made the decision to run the event with smaller ice sculptures, focusing on local tourists.

"It's disappointing we won't have impressively large sculptures, but going back to our roots, we'll make it a simpler snow festival that primarily entertains local citizens," a member of the committee said at a press conference.

The Sapporo Snow Festival, which normally sees around 2 million domestic and overseas visitors every year, usually features large ice sculptures, around 15m tall, modelled after famous characters or foreign architectural landmarks carved by members of the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force and others.

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

Two men working at the venue were later confirmed to have contracted the virus, with Hokkaido becoming the first prefecture to experience a wave of infections.

The committee also said the annual food-themed Sapporo Autumn Fest held in September to October has been cancelled.