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A 'Bitter Pill': Oktoberfest Canceled Due To Coronavirus

Yet another famous event has fallen victim to the coronavirus pandemic. On Tuesday, German officials announced that this year's Oktoberfest has been canceled.

The annual event in the Bavarian capital of Munich is the world's largest beer and folk festival, attracting more than 6 million visitors each year.

But public safety concerns over the coronavirus pandemic outweigh the benefits of hosting this year's festival, local and state officials said. It was scheduled to take place from Sept. 19 through Oct. 4.

"The risk is quite simply too high," Bavarian Minister President Markus Söder said during a press conference on Tuesday.

Munich's mayor, Dieter Reiter, described the cancellation as a "bitter pill" for the city but said that officials had no other choice. "You can't host a folk festival in a time like this," he said.

The association of Oktoberfest beer tent owners said in a statement that it "deeply regrets the decision, but understands it completely."

The annual Oktoberfest is a boon for Munich's breweries and hospitality industry, and generated more than 1.2 billion euros ($1.3 billion) in economic impact for the city in 2019, according to local media. Visitors drank more than 1.9 million gallons of beer during last year's event.

This isn't the first time the 210-year-old festival has been canceled. Other pandemics have previously prompted organizers to do away with the event, including a cholera outbreak in 1854.

But decades have passed since it was last canceled. The last time was during World War II.

The cancellation of the event, which locals call Wiesn, which is German for meadow, didn't come as a surprise. Söder hinted at such a possibility in late March, shortly after declaring a state of emergency due to the virus outbreak.

Coincidentally, Tuesday's announcement came only a day after Germany relaxed some of its lockdown restrictions. A number of small shops with a retail space of less than 8,600 square feet were allowed to reopen on Monday.

"The increase of infected people is slowing down, and our medical services are not overrun by people requiring hospitalization," German MP Jürgen Hardt told NPR last week.

Germany reported 1,775 news coronavirus cases on Monday, which was the lowest number of new infections since mid-March.

Germany currently ranks fifth in the world with more than 147,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. Nearly 4,900 people have died there, so far, from the disease.

"We will continue to closely monitor the infection numbers," said Hardt, a member of Chancellor Angela Merkel's CDU party. "The government will make a decision on the next steps on April 30."

Another iconic European festival was also canceled on Tuesday. Spain's Running of the Bulls festival, which had been scheduled for July, will not happen this year because of the pandemic.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.