Memorial for Christchurch mosque shootings called off over Covid-19 fears

A woman prepares to place flowers at the Al Noor mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand Credit: Mark Baker/AP

A national memorial to commemorate those killed when a gunman attacked two New Zealand mosques has been cancelled due to concern over the new coronavirus.

Thousands of people were expected to attend the Sunday service in Christchurch to mark the first anniversary of the March 15 shooting which saw 51 people die.

New Zealand has had just six confirmed cases of Covid-19, but prime minister Jacinda Ardern said the decision to cancel the service at Horncastle Arena was pragmatic and precautionary.

“We’re very saddened to cancel, but in remembering such a terrible tragedy, we shouldn’t create the risk of further harm being done,” Ms Ardern said.

The announcement came a day after Ms Ardern had said at a news conference in Christchurch that the event would still go ahead.

Some had questioned at the time why the event was proceeding after officials had elected to cancel a festival in Auckland celebrating Pacific culture due to fears over the coronavirus.

Ms Ardern had said the Pasifika Festival was cancelled out of a specific concern the virus could spread to Pacific islands that do not have the health infrastructure to cope with an outbreak.

On Friday, the prime minister attended a special joint prayer with members of both mosques that were attacked.

Immediately after last year’s attacks, Ms Ardern started working on changing the nation’s gun laws.

The deadliest types of semi-automatics are now banned, and gun owners turned in about 60,000 of their newly outlawed weapons for money in a national buy-back.

Ms Ardern also worked on trying to eliminate terror attacks from being shown online, after the gunman livestreamed the Christchurch attacks.

She brought some nations and technology companies together to work on the issue in what she named the Christchurch Call, which she said had helped start a new crisis response protocol.

“As a result of the protocol and that coordination in those events where social media platforms have been used to broadcast attacks, the circulation of those videos had been far, far diminished,” she said.

The man accused of the attacks, 29-year-old Australian white supremacist Brenton Tarrant, is due to stand trial in June on charges of terrorism, murder and attempted murder.