Britain’s health secretary defended the government’s abrupt re-imposition of restrictions on social life across a swath of northern England on Friday, saying it was important to clamp down quickly on new outbreaks of Covid-19.
Matt Hancock said that while it’s not the “sort of decision that anybody would want to take,’’ the government had no choice.
“It is important to move quickly because the virus spreads and you’ve got to make sure you do everything you can do keep ahead of it,” he told Sky News.
Under the new restrictions, people from different households in Greater Manchester, England’s second largest metropolitan area, have been asked to not meet indoors. The order also applies to the surrounding areas of Lancashire and West Yorkshire counties, affecting more than 4 million people in all.
Hancock said data showed the coronavirus was being spread primarily between households.
He told the BBC that “one of the terrible things about this virus is it thrives on the sort of social contact that makes life worth living.”
Opposition politicians supported the latest move but criticized the government for announcing the restrictions in a tweet from Hancock late Thursday, just two hours before they came into force at midnight.
Labour Party business spokeswoman Lucy Powell said the “bolt out of the blue” approach was “not the way to build confidence and to take people with you and maximize compliance with these steps.”
The affected region has a large Muslim population, and the restrictions coincide with the Eid al-Adha holiday, where many people would normally gather in each other’s homes.
Hancock said “my heart goes out to the Muslim communities in these areas because I know how important the Eid celebrations are.”
“I’m very grateful to the local Muslim leaders, the imams in fact, across the country who’ve been working so hard to find a way to have Covid-secure celebrations,” he said.
“For instance, celebrating Eid in parks where there’s more space available and, of course, outdoors is safer than indoors.”
The measures are the second batch of regional restrictions imposed to try to curb a second wave of the virus in Britain, following a stricter local lockdown in the central England city of Leicester. The government said restaurants, pubs, shops and hairdressers in Leicester could reopen from Monday, more than a month after they were closed amid a surge in cases.