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British govt faces criticism after banning Eid gatherings in several parts of UK

An empty street is seen in Manchester, following the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), Manchester, Britain, May 4, 2020. — Reuters

LONDON: The UK government faced criticism after it announced new lockdown measures banning members of different households from meeting each other in the country's northern areas including Greater Manchester, East and West Lancashire, and Leicester.

The announcement came just a few hours before Eid ul Adha gatherings were set to start in the country.

The UK, like Europe, is celebrating Eid ul Adha today. Approximately three million Muslims live in the UK today, with nearly one million Muslims living in the area placed under lockdown.

According to the new rules, pubs, restaurants, and hospitality venues will remain open, however, Muslims will be unable to meet their loved ones and friends to mark the joyous occasion of Eid ul Adha — a significant religious festivity for Muslims across the world.

UK's Health Secretary Matt Hancock who has faced intense criticism over the timing of these changes implied that "households gathering and not abiding by the social-distancing rules" was a reason for these stricter rules and that the move was to "keep the country safe".

"We take this action with a heavy heart but unfortunately it's necessary because we've seen that households meeting up and a lack of social distancing is one of the causes of this rising rate of coronavirus and we'll do whatever is necessary to keep the country safe," he said.

The Muslim Council of Britain's secretary-general, Harun Khan, criticised the way the government announced the lockdown, just a day before the Eid celebrations began.

In a statement, he said: "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.”

"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.”

He added, "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 coronavirus crisis.”

Criticising the way these measures were announced and their impact on the Muslim community in the UK, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said: "No one would argue with putting in place local action to reduce the transmission of coronavirus. But announcing measures affecting potentially millions of people late at night on Twitter is a new low for the government's communications during this crisis."

Good Morning Britain host Adil Ray explained how devastating the news will be for Muslims in the north: "It is, just to explain to the rest of the nation, like waking up on Christmas Day and realising that you cannot go to your family's house and have Christmas dinner, or they cannot come and visit you.”

Several people took to Twitter to criticise the government for its actions.

One user wrote: "It's obvious that the government called the local lockdown in the North-west to prevent Muslims celebrating Eid-al-Adha, for reasons only they will know. After all - Muslim families do not generally gather in pubs!"