Coronavirus: New Zealand Anzac Day events cancelled, poppy day postponed

New Zealand's Anzac Day commemorative events have been cancelled, while poppy day has been postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

RSA (Returned and Services Association) president BJ Clark made the announcement on Thursday, saying that volunteers and money collectors would be put at risk in the current environment. It's the first time Anzac Day events, held on April 25, have been cancelled in the country and the first time poppy day has been postponed.

"This is an unprecedented decision in the history of our proud organisation and made after close consulation with the Government, the Hon Ron Mark, Minister for Veterans and Minister of Defence, and key agencies, such as the Ministry of Health," he said.

"It is the right sacrifice to make at this critical time."

Clark said people could continue to remember the service of Kiwis, but not together in public.

"Now is the time to look after our whanau and family and to fight the invisible enemy that has declared war on our way of life."

Poppy Day is the RSA's major annual fundraiser for current and ex-service personnel, including for the police and families of servicemen. It has been held since 1922 and is typically on the Friday before Anzac Day.

Clark said he knows postponing the day will have a financial impact on RSA members. He said even with the current collection the RSA was struggling to support members. But another date will eventually be found.

The decision comes after services at Gallipoli organised by New Zealand and Australia were canned on Wednesday. 

Anzac Day marks the anniversary of New Zealand and Australian soldiers landing on the Gallipoli Peninsula in 1915 during World War I. Among the tens of thousands killed during the Gallipoli campaign were about 8500 Australians and 2779 New Zealanders. About a sixth of the Kiwis killed landed on the peninusla. 

The services held at Gallipoli are the largest Anzac Day commemorations run jointly by New Zealand and Australia.

What we know about coronavirus

Coronavirus is primarily spread through droplets in the air after someone sneezes or coughs. However, it can also be contracted by touching surfaces where the illness is present, according to the World Health Organization. The length of time the virus stays alive on surfaces is unknown at this stage, but some viruses can remain active for days. 

The elderly are particularly vulnerable and Clark acknowledged that this could mean many veterans and members are at risk.

The WHO was first informed of cases of the virus in Wuhan on December 31. It was identified as a coronavirus on January 7 and can spread through human-to-human transmission. 

"Common signs of infection include respiratory symptoms, fever, cough, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties. In more severe cases, infection can cause pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure and even death," the WHO says.

"Standard recommendations to prevent infection spread include regular hand washing, covering mouth and nose when coughing and sneezing, thoroughly cooking meat and eggs. Avoid close contact with anyone showing symptoms of respiratory illness such as coughing and sneezing."

There is currently no vaccine for the sickness.

How can I protect myself? 

  • avoid touching the mouth, nose and eyes with unwashed hands

  • washing your hands before eating

  • carrying a hand sanitiser at all times

  • being particularly mindful of touching your face after using public transport or going to the airport

  • carry tissues at all times to cover the mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing (then dispose of it)

  • not eating shared or communal food

  • avoiding shaking hands, kissing cheeks

  • regularly cleaning and sanitise commonly used surfaces and items, such as phones and keys

  • avoiding close contact with people suffering from or showing symptoms of acute respiratory infection

  • seeking medical attention if you feel unwell.

A full explainer on protecting yourself from coronavirus can be found here.

The Ministry of Health is reminding the public to get in touch with Healthline on 0800 358 5453 if they have symptoms or concerns.