25 April is no doubt different this year in Australia with the Anzac Day services either closed to the general public or cancelled due to the impact of a pandemic. Do we sense unity in isolation? Yes!
Anzac Day, often referred to as the Day of Remembrance, is one of the most significant days in Australia since 1916 and an important national occasion. The day marks thousands of visitors from Australia and New Zealand descending upon Gelibolu, or better known as Gallipoli, a peninsula in western Turkey’s Çanakkale province, to commemorate fallen soldiers from Australia and New Zealand who fought for the Allied Forces against the Ottoman Empire in 1915 during World War I.
But in the first year of the new decade, Anzac Day is different, owing to the treacherous consequences of the novel coronavirus, COVID 19. The pandemic has forced governments to impose necessary travel restrictions, lockdowns, stay-at-home orders and a strict no to gatherings to contain the spread of the virus, which is contagious in nature.
Resultantly, Anzac Day was the one in self isolation, with some using technology to pay homage to soldiers while the others conducting the famous "Light up the Dawn" service with mini services in their driveways, balconies and their front gates.
Anzac Day- A Look at the Day of Remembrance
ANZAC is the abbreviation for Australian and New Zealand Army Corps.
On 25 April 1915, New Zealand and Australian soldiers together were part of the allied mission to seize the Gallipoli peninsula with the intent to open the Dardanelles (to the allied navies). These soldiers were called the Anzacs and remain one of the most courageous ones in history.
Upon landing on Gallipoli, the Anzacs met ferocious confrontation from the Ottoman Turkish defenders, who held Gallipoli back then. The war campaign, rather a stalemate, went on for about eight months. Towards the end of 1915, the allied forces were finally evacuated. Major casualties and great adversities were reported by both the sides.
Even though the campaign was not successful in its primary military goals, the actions of the forces of these two countries left behind a legacy so powerful, it is commemorated to date.
What Happens on Anzac Day?
25 April or the day of Anzac Day ceremony is highly rich in both ritual and tradition. It is regarded as an arrangement of military funeral. It is the day to remember the sacrifice of those who died in the Gallipoli war. In his address to the nation, Prime Minister Scott Morrison regarded the day as the “most sacred” one for Australians and the Australian War Memorial on Ngunnawal land, in the nation’s capital, to be the “most sacred place.”
Ideally, Anzac Day’s ceremonies are performed in two parts, with the first one at dawn and the second performed later in the morning of 25 April.
The dawn service initiates with a pre-dawn march by returned service staffs to the local war memorial, followed by a short service, a prayer, hymns and a dedication, and settling with a prayer and singing of the national anthem.
The other part that happens in the morning is the Anzac parade wherein returned service personnel wearing their medals march behind banners and standards, proceeding to the local war memorial. A more public service occurs with a speech made by a dignitary, returned serviceman or woman.
Towards the end, the retreat ceremony is performed.
How is Anzac Day 2020 Different?
The answer of the above is short and simple yet sad- COVID 19. Owing to restrictive orders and maintaining the norm of stay-at-home to keep the novel coronavirus at bay, commemorative services and marches across Australia have been cancelled with residents urged to stay home due to the ongoing COVID 19 crisis.
Australians and New Zealanders noticeably marked Anzac Day in driveway ceremonies, residential streets and backyard buglers with few gathering far apart on beautiful Aussie beaches with candles in their hands, listening to the Last Post played by volunteer brass players and musicians.
What should be noted here is the fact that even with fewer service providers, the historical and significant event continued to embark a sense of patriotism and loyalty amid Australians and New Zealanders.
The COVID 19 Situation in Australia
Let us now throw some light on the reason that Anzac Day was still significant but different. According to a JHU CSSE dashboard, as on 25 April 2020, Australia had over 6.6k confirmed cases of COVID 19 with 75 deaths in total across the country, maximum in New South Wales. More than 4.1k cases have recovered.
Australia’s quarantine and border arrangements have effectively abridged the dangerous transmission of the virus from overseas arrivals. The current focus remains on containing national outbreaks in local communities via rapid responses.
Moreover, three economic stimulus packages were injected at the Commonwealth level, with total expenditure and revenue measures worth $194 billion (9.9% of GDP) through FY2023-24. The majority of this will be executed in FY19-20 and FY20-21.
An extra $5 billion will be spent to bolster the health system and protect the vulnerable people. On top of this, state and territory governments have intimated about fiscal stimulus packages of approximately $11.5 billion.
Suppression strategy for the virus seems to be working for Australia. Estimates suggest that ~ 93% of all symptomatic cases are detected in Australia, and the country has the highest reported detection rate in the world.
Time will tell how fast can the world and Australia get rid of what we would like to address as the invisible enemy, but Australia’s resistance and the sense of hope as denoted via isolated yet united Anzac Day celebrations demonstrate that the country bears potential to let this phase pass.