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British Muslims condemn lockdown announced two hours before Eid celebrations

Britain's mosques have been following strict social distancing procedures [Getty]

Date of publication: 31 July, 2020

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'It is like being told they cannot visit family and friends for Christmas on Christmas Eve itself,' the UK's largest Muslim group said, criticising government communication of the new lockdown
British Muslims in parts of northern England have voiced their frustration after the government gave just two hours' notice before imposing a lockdown to prevent the spread of coronavirus, the night before festivities for Eid al-Adha were due to begin.

The news was followed by a claim from Conservative MP Craig Whittaker that Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) were not taking the pandemic seriously enough, which was widely criticised for baselessly scapegoating Britain's non-white population.

The UK's largest Muslim body, the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB), criticised the government's failure to clearly communicate the new measures, which prohibit at-home gatherings of more than one household in Greater Manchester, east Lancashire and parts of West Yorkshire.

The new lockdown was announced over Twitter by the Health Secretary Matt Hancock at 10pm on Thursday, coming into effect at midnight.

“With the first day of Eid being today, for Muslims in the affected areas, it is like being told they cannot visit family and friends for Christmas on Christmas Eve itself," said MCB's Secretary General Harun Khan. "Whilst the safety of communities is of paramount importance, as has remained the case from  the very outset of this crisis, so is effective communication delivered in a timely fashion."

“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.

Khan added that he would welcome any clarification behind the reasons for the "shockingly short notice" given ahead of the new rules coming into effect.

Many people questioned why the regulations specifically targeted at-home gatherings, rather than pubs and restaurants, with the sense that Muslim gatherings had been deliberately targeted while most other restrictions are being eased.

One report on Sky News cited a government source who said that Eid had been a factor in the new lockdown, which aimed at reducing household transmission.

However many were quick to point out the irony of this strategy.

"So to be clear I can't visit my sister's house for Eid biryani but I can meet her in the pub for a pint," tweeted Shaf Choudry.

The frustration felt by Muslim communities was compounded by remarks made on Friday by Whittaker, MP for Calder Valley, claiming that the "vast majority" of those violating the restrictions in his constituency were from BAME backgrounds.

In response to what were widely condemned as baseless and racist remarks, social media was inundated with pictures and videos of white Brits gathered in large numbers without social distancing, or refusing to wear masks in shops.

When asked to condemn Whittaker's claims, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that "ultimately it's up to everybody" to tackle coronavirus. Many interpreted this as an endorsement of the MP's view.

An MCB spokesperson said Whittaker's claim was "shameless scapegoating of minorities" and called for the MP to apologise.

"Mosques and Muslim institutions have gone above and beyond to ensure social distancing rules are observed and have initiated unprecedented education campaigns to ensure they are upheld by families," they added.

"It's one thing to discuss health inequalities & challenges with intergenerational households & occupational hazards - and these factors being prevalent in certain groups," they said.

"It's quite another to make baseless allegations claiming certain groups aren't taking the pandemic seriously, especially when these claims are contradicted by a local Director of Public Health," they added, referring to comments made by the health director for Blackburn, one of the affected areas.

"It is highly irresponsible and frankly shameful for pulic figures to attack minorities in this way and we look forward to public health leaders and senior government officials publicly and vocally repudiating this Member of Parliament," they concluded.

Data collected during the pandemic has shown that Black and Asian groups are at higher risk of dying from Covid-19. Those from Bangladeshi backgrounds are twice as likely to die from the virus than white Brits, accounting for age and sex.

The overwhelming majority of doctors who have died from Covid-19 have been from BAME backgrounds, with doctors from these groups three times as likely to say they had felt pressured to work in spite of insufficient Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).

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