CHRISTCHURCH, New Zealand: A high-profile memorial service in New Zealand to mark the first anniversary of last year’s attack at two local mosques in Christchurch has been cancelled because of the coronavirus. Thousands had been expected at the national event, including visitors from abroad.
The last-minute decision, taken early Saturday afternoon local time, had local hotels registering a “significant” number of cancellations, according to one hospitality worker who spoke with Arab News.
The city of Christchurch, the country’s second-largest, is named for a Christian cathedral but over the past 12 months has also been a byword for the anti-Muslim bloodletting visited on Muslim worshippers a year ago today at the nearby Al-Noor and Linwood mosques.
The carnage left 51 worshippers dead, scores injured and this South Pacific nation of five million reeling.
In recent weeks, however, the novel coronavirus has also left a different kind of mark, leaving Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern little choice, she said, but to nix the public event planned for the Horncastle Arena.
Ardern, who was to have been a keynote speaker, said she was “very saddened” to make the decision.
But she also felt that “in remembering such a terrible tragedy we shouldn’t create the risk of further harm being done.”
The country’s Ministry of Health had just announced the country’s sixth confirmed covid-19 case.
Covid-19 has not caused any local fatalities to date. Its threat has rattled the New Zealand establishment, however, and put a dent in international visitor numbers, delivering a collective jolt to the country’s sense of well-being.
Ardern said the specific concern had been over those international visitors who had made it for the memorial service, and the difficulty officials may have faced in trying to trace any possible new cases arising from their presence.
Ardern also asked that international visitors to New Zealand isolate themselves for 14 days upon arrival. She said the “unprecedented and far-reaching” measure would come into effect from midnight Sunday, applying to all inbound travelers except those from Pacific Island countries.
A spokesman for the Al-Noor mosque told the local news outlet Stuff that it would have been “unwise” for officials not to take the most prudent medical advice.
The national remembrance service was to include local Muslim leaders and members of the Canterbury Muslim community, along with local and central government representatives. Survivors and relatives of victims of the attacks had also been involved in planning the ceremony.
Elsewhere in the city, others who had been thinking of making their own contributions to the Sunday program were philosophical.
Abu Aimen Mohammed, who had travelled from England to set up a canopy promoting an “Islam Against Extremism” venture, said it would work just as well in the city’s downtown, where he was handing out related pamphlets on Saturday afternoon.
“The good work goes on, inshallah,” he said with a shrug.
(With files from AFP and Charles Anderson in Auckland)