We may get day off to mourn Christchurch earthquake victims

UNITY FOR CHRISTCHURCH: Prime Minister John Key yesterday said the national memorial service would be held in Christchurch at an "appropriate time".
UNITY FOR CHRISTCHURCH: Prime Minister John Key yesterday said the national memorial service would be held in Christchurch at an "appropriate time".

The Government may declare a national day of mourning which could create a one-off public holiday to coincide with a memorial service for those killed after the Christchurch earthquake.

Prime Minister John Key yesterday said the national memorial service would be held in Christchurch at an "appropriate time", likely to be within three weeks.

He did not want to speculate on whether the event would coincide with a national holiday, but did not rule it out.

"We're working our way through that. I hope to be in a position to be able to give you a bit more information on that maybe as early as Monday."

Mr Key said the quake was one of New Zealand's most significant events. "I think it's not just the loss of life; it's our second-largest city and it shows the global world that we live in and I think all New Zealanders will want to mourn that loss and to grieve for those who've lost their lives and for the significant disruption to our second major city."

No dates had been set, but it was likely to be before the end of the month, possibly March 22 - the one-month anniversary of the quake.

It was more complex to organise than the Pike River memorial because of the number of people and large international presence.

Yesterday it was revealed search and rescue teams are now looking for bodies rather than survivors, and that the final toll is likely to be about 220.

Civil Defence Emergency Management national controller John Hamilton said: "As time has gone on, the chance of finding someone alive has diminished and, sadly, there comes a point where the response effort shifts in focus from rescue to body recovery. We have now reached that point."

Mr Key said he hoped all the bodies could be recovered in time for the service.

He said it was important that the names of all the deceased were publicly released before the memorial service but it was not up to the Government to control that.

Cabinet will meet on Monday to decide the next phase of the recovery effort. It will also look at what form an inquiry into Christchurch building collapses should take.