New Zealand memorial service to honor Christchurch victims cancelled due to coronavirus fears

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern during a news conference prior to the anniversary of the mosque attacks. (Reuters)
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Updated 14 March 2020

New Zealand memorial service to honor Christchurch victims cancelled due to coronavirus fears

  • Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced along with ‘unprecendented’ self-isolation for inbound travelers on Saturday
  • Local hospitality worker said there had been a ‘significant’ number of cancellations

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)


Truck drives into US crowd protesting George Floyd killing, underscoring volatile situation

Updated 01 June 2020

Truck drives into US crowd protesting George Floyd killing, underscoring volatile situation

  • Protesters managed to stop the truck and beat up the driver, who was later arrested by police
  • A New York City Police car earlier drove into a crowd of protesters who were pelting it with objects

MINNEAPOLIS, Minnesota: A tanker truck drove through thousands of people marching on a Minneapolis highway to protest the death of George Floyd on Sunday before protesters dragged the driver from the cab and beat him, according to a Reuters witness and authorities.
It did not appear any of the marchers were injured when the truck raced toward them on I-35, blowing its horn, sending protesters scattering before coming to a stop, according to the witness and a tweet by the Minnesota Department of Public Security (MNDPS).
Police arrived soon after and arrested the truck driver, who was taken to a local hospital with non-life-threatening injuries, MNDPS said.
Video of the incident shows protesters swarming the vehicle before it comes to a stop.

Protesters hand over to police the driver of a tanker truck after he drove into a crowd marching on 35W north bound highway in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on May 31, 2020. (REUTERS/Eric Miller)

“The incident just underscores the volatile situation we have out there,” Minnesota Governor Tim Walz told a news conference, adding he did not know the motives of the driver.
It marked the second incident in as many days of a vehicle driving at people protesting Floyd’s death after a New York City Police car was captured on video on Saturday driving into a crowd of protesters who were pelting it with objects.
“Very disturbing actions by a truck driver on I-35W, inciting a crowd of peaceful demonstrators,” MNDPS tweeted.
Video showed the truck had a logo on its side for “Kenan Advantage Group,” an Ohio-based transportation company.
The company said in a statement that it was informed of an incident involving one of its independent contractors in Minneapolis and it would be cooperating with investigating authorities.
MNDPS did not identify the driver but said the Minnesota State Patrol and the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension were investigating the incident as a criminal matter.