McDonald's planned to celebrate the arrival of the Big Mac in Russia 30 years ago by offering one of its most popular items virtually for free.

But on Thursday, the US company said it had cancelled a celebration of the milestone in Moscow due to fear of the spread of the coronavirus.

"There's nothing more important for us than the health of our guests and employees," Marc Carena, general director of McDonald's in Russia, said in a statement.

He pointed to measures taken by city officials to avoid mass gatherings that could provide fertile ground for the China virus.

Russia does not have any confirmed cases so far, but the Russian government has set up a task force to try and prevent it from taking hold in the country.

A plan to sell Big Macs in Moscow at January 1990 prices was scrapped owing to concern that it could help spread the coronavirus A plan to sell Big Macs in Moscow at January 1990 prices was scrapped owing to concern that it could help spread the coronavirus Photo: AFP / VITALY ARMAND

The coronavirus originated in the Chinese city of Wuhan and has killed 170 people in China so far.

On Thursday the Russian government said it was closing its border with China and would stop issuing electronic visas to Chinese nationals.

McDonald's opened its first restaurant in then-Soviet Russia on January 31, 1990 in a move hailed as symbolic of a thaw between the Soviet Union and the West.

Huge crowds queued for hours outside the restaurant in central Moscow to try their first ever Big Mac.

McDonald's had wanted to repeat the Soviet-era success by selling the Big Mac at its flagship Moscow restaurant at Soviet prices -- 3 rubles ($0.05) a piece -- and the campaign had been expected to draw a large number of customers.

The company has repeatedly come under pressure in Russia and had to temporarily close its flagship store over alleged hygiene violations following Western sanctions over the Ukraine crisis.