Prime Minister Scott Morisson invokes Anzac spirit as COVID-19 forces more shut downs and stops Anzac Day services

ON HOLD: New rules regarding social distancing in the wake of the COVID-19 threat have forced the cancellation of Anzac Day services this year. Picture: David Stewart
ON HOLD: New rules regarding social distancing in the wake of the COVID-19 threat have forced the cancellation of Anzac Day services this year. Picture: David Stewart

PUBS, clubs, cinemas, gyms and churches were forced to close across the region on Monday as Australia stepped up efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19.

Prime Minister Scott Morisson called on Australians to summon the spirit of the Anzacs as the nation braced for tough times ahead.

"So we summon the spirit of the Anzacs, of our Great Depression generation, of those who built the Snowy, of those who won the great peace of World War II and defended Australia," he said.

"For many, young and old, 2020 will be the toughest year of our lives."

In a cruel twist, the coronavirus has already claimed Australia's most public demonstration of its respect for that Anzac spirit, with the cancellation of all Anzac Day services this year.

President of the South Lake Macquarie RSL sub-Branch, Daniel Sloan, said it was a cruel blow, but public health came first.

"It's very sad that there will be no public services, or services of any kind," Mr Sloan said.

"This is the one day of the year that many veterans and their families look forward to; catching up with mates and commemorating the bravery of veterans from past conflicts."

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Local veterans agreed cancelling services was the only option, he said.

"Although very disappointed, the members I have spoken to are in agreeance to the suspension of all services. Many have illnesses and underlying conditions that the virus could exacerbate if they were exposed."

It was looming as a particularly important Anzac Day for the sub-branch, being the first at a new venue.

"With the closure of the Morisset Country Club, a lot of time and effort has been put into holding the dawn service, march and main service at the Dora Creek Workers Club," Mr Sloan said.

"The club has more-than-suitable facilities to hold such an event on the oval and can easily cater for the event in the club following the services.

"We had just finalised the planning with Lake Macquarie City Council, police and the club. Their efforts in meeting our needs for a large community event are to be commended and I would like to thank them personally."

SAD: Daniel Sloan.

SAD: Daniel Sloan.

Mr Sloan said locals could still pay their respects on the day - but in private.

One idea floated on Sydney radio was for people to stand with a candle on their front lawn at dawn on Anzac Day.

"Any way to commemorate the day within the current guidelines is welcomed," Mr Sloan said.

RSL NSW is also working with the state government to plan alternative ways for people to commemorate the day.

The Australian War Memorial would hold a private, nationally televised Anzac Day commemorative service, and RSL NSW was considering televising a small, private service under strict conditions, Mr Sloan said.

RSL NSW had emphasised that the cancellations applied to all commemorations and activities - and that included sub-branch participation in dawn services, gunfire breakfasts, dinners, marches and flag ceremonies.

"There are to be no exceptions," RSL NSW said in a statement.

Mr Sloan said the lead up to Anzac Day, and the period following Anzac Day, were normally very busy for the sub-branch.

"We attend many school ceremonies and aged care facilities conducting a small service for veterans and residents that are unable to attend the public events," he said.

Meetings of the sub-branch and Morisset RSL Day Club activities have also been suspended until further notice.

Mr Sloan said any local veterans - whether they were sub-branch members or not - who found themselves in financial or other trouble should contact the South Lake Macquarie RSL sub-Branch on 4973 5680 or 0425 305 762.

"Updates can be seen on our Facebook page @slmrsl or email secretary@slmrsl.org.au," he said.

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