UK fears Islamophobia rise with mosques set to reopen 

UK fears Islamophobia rise with mosques set to reopen 
The UK is preparing itself for increases in incidents of Islamophobia as the country begins to end its lockdown introduced to curb the spread of COVID-19. (Reuters/File Photo)
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Updated 15 June 2020

UK fears Islamophobia rise with mosques set to reopen 

UK fears Islamophobia rise with mosques set to reopen 
  • Anti-Muslim abuse had already increased during COVID-19 lockdown, according to MPs

LONDON: The UK is preparing itself for increases in incidents of Islamophobia as the country begins to end its lockdown introduced to curb the spread of COVID-19.

There are fears that mosques and other Islamic community centers could be targeted, having been closed to worshippers for much of the period.

Places of worship for all faiths in the UK were reopened by the government on June 13, but only for “private prayer.” 

Guidance on congregational worship, such as Friday prayers, is less clear, raising fears that Muslims trying to pray while observing social distancing measures could be unfairly accused of ignoring them.

Tell Mama, a UK organization that supports Muslim victims of racist abuse, says it has recorded several cases of far-right groups blaming Muslims for spreading COVID-19 during the lockdown.

Several British-Muslim MPs said they had also received racist emails during the lockdown, especially around Ramadan and Eid.

They added that they had seen evidence of anti-Muslim conspiracy theories spread on social media, including that Muslims increased transmission of COVID-19 by congregating at mosques.

MP Afzal Khan, vice chair of the UK’s All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for British Muslims, said: “The journey of this is first the thoughts, then the words, then the action comes. We know in the past things have happened.”

He added that he received racist messages after he criticized Tommy Robinson, former leader of the far-right English Defence League, and another far-right group, Britain First.

Khan told The Guardian newspaper: “It’s true that a large number of people do participate (in prayer at mosques). But they understand the risk. They are complying with (the rules) and there is no evidence to show that they are not, and yet the narrative from the far right is the opposite.”

Sikh MP Tan Singh Dhesi, vice chair of the APPG for British Muslims, said: “There have been attacks in the past — people have been cooped up at home, and there’s been a distortion of what’s going on through social media. They may feel very, very worked up.”

He added: “Communal elements are more common in certain faiths but there have been certain elements of the far right saying this is how the coronavirus is spreading. This is a dangerous narrative we need to call out.”

MP Wes Streeting, another vice chair of the APPG for British Muslims, has called on police to step up security at mosques.

The Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) has offered advice to imams and Muslim communities across the UK on how to operate social distancing in British mosques, by limiting numbers and staggering entry.

MCB Secretary-General Harun Khan said: “Though we as Muslims are longing to go back to our mosques and worship with our communities, it is essential that we do not rush.”

He added: “Coronavirus is still prevalent and dangerous, and mosque leaders must carefully plan and decide when they feel they can put the required controls in place to reopen in the safest way possible.”


UK vaccine team shifting focus to new variant threat

Prof. Robin Shattock, head of the vaccine team at Imperial, said scientists will now use the ribonucleic acid (RNA) technology behind the initial vaccine to target new and emerging coronavirus variants. (Shutterstock/File Photo)
Prof. Robin Shattock, head of the vaccine team at Imperial, said scientists will now use the ribonucleic acid (RNA) technology behind the initial vaccine to target new and emerging coronavirus variants. (Shutterstock/File Photo)
Updated 28 min 54 sec ago

UK vaccine team shifting focus to new variant threat

Prof. Robin Shattock, head of the vaccine team at Imperial, said scientists will now use the ribonucleic acid (RNA) technology behind the initial vaccine to target new and emerging coronavirus variants. (Shutterstock/File Photo)
  • Scientists worldwide scrambling to target emerging mutations with ‘exciting technology’

LONDON: Scientists at Imperial College London have abandoned testing of their coronavirus vaccine to focus on combating emerging variants of the virus detected around the world.

The decision comes as the scientific community scrambles to get ahead of the new threat, which could require updated inoculations.

Prof. Robin Shattock, head of the vaccine team at Imperial, said scientists will now use the ribonucleic acid (RNA) technology behind the initial vaccine to target new and emerging coronavirus variants.

“Although our first generation vaccine candidate is showing promise in early clinical development, the broader situation has changed with the rapid rollout of approved vaccines,” he said in a statement on Tuesday.

“It is not the right time to start a new efficacy trial for a further vaccine in the UK, with the emphasis rightly placed on mass vaccination in response to the rapid spread of the new variant.”

Shattock said his team would develop the new vaccine technology as “a safety net to catch escaped mutations, reach variants that other vaccines may not, and meet potential needs for annual booster vaccinations.”

The Imperial vaccine uses the same design as the Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech jabs. It employs self-amplifying RNA to force an immune reaction from the body, producing vital antibodies and T-cells that offer protection.

The vaccine’s initial trials came last summer as scientists around the world raced to develop the first effective jab.

However, with the UK and many other countries successfully moving forward with mass vaccine rollouts, Imperial and other top teams have decided to change course.

The technology used in the Imperial jab can be adapted to target new variants and mutations of coronavirus. This could fast-track the development of updated vaccines as the pandemic worsens in some parts of the world.

The Imperial team has also found methods to store new RNA vaccines in standard refrigeration for months, where current vaccines require expensive ultra-low temperature storage.

Shattock said: “Imperial College is working with philanthropists, investors, government and industry partners to take this exciting technology further.”

The UK government will continue its support for Imperial’s self-amplifying RNA technology as part of its anti-coronavirus policy.

Prof. Alice Gast, president of Imperial, said: “The self-amplifying RNA vaccine has much to offer in the fight against coronavirus and other diseases.

“This exciting technology will help accelerate future vaccine production, providing the agility to defend against viral mutations, and protect current and future generations from pandemics.”