Anger over 'failure to communicate' after rule change disrupts Eid celebrations

  • Video report by ITV News Correspondent Damon Green

The government has been attacked over its "failure to communicate" after its move to tighten coronavirus restrictions in parts of north west of England on the eve of Eid celebrations for Muslims.

New measures brought in for several north west towns have outlawed meetings between different households indoors.

Good Morning Britain presenter Adil Ray said it was "like waking up on Christmas Day and realising that you cannot go to your family's Christmas dinner".

Health secretary Matt Hancock defended the swift new measures, saying it was "important to move fast" late on Thursday evening.

"With no action at all, the virus doubles every three days so it is is important to move fast and sometimes that means communicating very rapidly," he said.

But the Muslim Council of Britain has criticised the government for its lack of communication - which has caused disruption for Muslims around the country who had been hoping to meet with family this weekend.

The group's secretary general Harun Khan, said: "For Muslims in the affected areas, it is like being told they cannot visit family and friends for Christmas on Christmas Eve itself.

“Failure to communicate makes it difficult for communities across the country to continue working together to minimise the spread of the virus, whilst eroding trust in the ability of authorities to steer our course as we tackle the Covid-19 crisis."

He added: “The UK government has failed to provide clarity on the shockingly short notice and the reasoning behind the new rules that British Muslims deserve – any such clarification would be most welcome.”

Mr Hancock confirmed the new restrictions "sadly" mean that "people won't be able to have that household engagement - people going to meet in each other's houses, or gardens - because we've seen that's how the disease spreads".

But he said Muslims "will be able to go to mosques" to celebrate.

ITV News Political Correspondent Libby Wiener asked whether it made any sense for mosque celebrations to be allowed, given the possibility that several households could all be inside one at the same time.

Mr Hancock said it does make sense, "because the Imams have worked so hard to find socially distanced, Covid-secure ways of having Eid celebrations".

He added: "We've been clear all along that we're willing to take action where that's needed, and its a very difficult balance, it's difficult judgements, these are not easy decisions."

Mr Hancock defended the government communication, saying the message of a rule change was spread "in all ways possible, as soon as practical".

"I explained the decision in an interview last night, also on social media, making sure that we get the message out as far and as fast as we can," he said.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer also criticised the government's communication.

Writing on Twitter, he said: “Despite poor communication from the Government, it’s crucial that we all follow the advice to help prevent another outbreak."

The stricter measures, announced via Mr Hancock’s Twitter feed at around 9pm and later posted online, mean members of different households are not be able to meet indoors.

Reacting to the announcement, an Imam told ITV News he was concerned for the waste from all the food that has been prepared.

Bilal Ali said: "I think the food that has been cooked by the cooked and prepared by all of the women in the households of the Muslim community, I think the government can and I should share that food with us, because I don't know what we're going to with it."He added that he would have liked to have seen more family and friends during Eid celebrations but will now only be spending the day with immediate family.

The restrictions, which came into force at midnight, cover the whole of Greater Manchester, as well as the east Lancashire boroughs of Blackburn with Darwen, Burnley, Pendle, Rossendale and Hyndburn.

It means many Muslims in northern England will not be able to celebrate Eid with their family which began just hours after the announcement.

Saima Afzal, a community inclusion activist and Blackburn councillor, said the Government "left it too late" to impose the restrictions.

She said people in the Lancashire town had already been warned against visiting households when it became clear to the council that infection rates were on the rise.

"The issue for me is the timing, it's really unfortunate," Ms Afzal said.

"Doesn't Matt Hancock see the potential impact two hours before Eid?

"I'm not saying he's intended it, but why weren't areas told in advance? They knew where the data was going.

"The lack of clarity for every community, not just Muslims, it's so last minute. "

The health secretary said test and trace data has shown "most of the transmission is happening between households" and between people visiting family and friends."

“One of the terrible things about this virus is it thrives on the sort of social contact that makes life worth living and that is a serious problem with the virus,” he said on Friday.

People wearing face masks have their temperatures checked before being allowed to go into Manchester Central Mosque on Friday. Credit: PA

Housing secretary Robert Jenrick tweeted: "Following the announcement on new local restrictions, I want to reassure British Muslims in impacted areas that Mosques are still allowed to open for congregational prayer, however worshippers should avoid large gatherings.

"Worshippers are free to attend the mosque if they wish, but in a socially distanced and COVID-19 secure way. Mosques have guidance as to how to do this and were doing so prior to these restrictions."

Eid al-Adha, also called Eid Qurban or Bakra-Eid, is the second of two Islamic holidays, and considered to be the holiest.

The celebrations last for four days and the dates, based on the Islamic lunar calendar, shift every year. This year Eid (which means feast or festival) began on Thursday and ends on Monday.

Eid is a time when many Muslims go to special prayers at their local mosque and celebrate with family and friends.