UK health secretary defends virus lockdown in northern England hours before Eid

The UK government was criticized for imposing the measures with no notice as one of the holiest days and important holidays in Islam was about to begin. Worshippers at Manchester Central Mosque on Friday. (AP)
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Updated 31 July 2020

UK health secretary defends virus lockdown in northern England hours before Eid

  • Some social media posts likened the decision to stopping families from meeting up just hours before Christmas Day

LONDON: Britain’s health secretary on Friday defended his decision to order a lockdown across northern England just hours before Muslims were due to start Eid Al-Adha cerebrations.

Matt Hancock said people from different households would be banned from meeting indoors in Greater Manchester, east Lancashire, and parts of West Yorkshire — areas with sizeable Muslim populations — after a spike in cases of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

Hancock announced the move in a tweet after 9 p.m. local time on Thursday evening, less than three hours before the rules were to come into force, sparking a huge social media backlash.]

The government was criticized for imposing the measures with no notice as one of the holiest days and important holidays in Islam was about to begin. Opposition Labour leader Keir Starmer called the announcement a “new low for government communications.”

Some social media posts likened the decision to stopping families from meeting up just hours before Christmas Day.

Twitter user @ellepyr said: “My friend just told me she had decorated her house, hired a bouncy castle and prepared a feast for family coming over for Eid Al-Adha. However, due to this last-minute announcement plans are ruined.”

Another social media user said: “How are they announcing this two hours before Eid? Can you imagine at 10 p.m. on Christmas Eve they announced that people can’t visit their families’ houses from midnight? Literally would never happen.”

Hancock said he sympathized with the Muslim population in the affected areas, and that his “heart goes out” to them, but justified his decision because the virus “thrives off social contact,” and in order to prevent its spread, people from separate households should not be meeting up.

Further south in England, the city of Leicester was still under a local lockdown but, unlike in that city, the northern lockdown will still allow people to visit bars, restaurants, shops, and places of worship if with people from their own household.

“The evidence shows that the biggest risk in terms of the spread of the virus across this area is household transmission, when people are going to see each other in each other’s homes when they are not in a household together, and also visiting friends and relatives,” Hancock added.

“Actually, we are not seeing as much transmission when people are going to their place of work or retail or other areas.”

Talking to Sky News, Hancock said that “households gathering and not abiding by the social-distancing rules” had led to the decision being made, which had been taken to “keep the country safe.”

One critic of the move within Hancock’s own Conservative Party, MP William Wragg, said: “Greater Manchester is not a homogeneous area. We must always err on the side of caution but to treat 10 boroughs the same is not the right approach.”

According to local figures, 85 percent of new COVID-19 cases recorded in newly locked down places such as the Lancashire towns of Oldham and Blackburn were among the south Asian community.

And one mosque leader from Yorkshire criticised some of his worshipers and said some people were not taking the threat of coronavirus seriously enough.

Mohammed Ashrif Tahir Nushai, 84, a community leader in Bradford, defended the government’s decision, telling the MailOnline: “Sadly, there are people within our community who are not taking coronavirus seriously enough. Since the easing of the main lockdown, a lot of people have been visiting relatives and friends and attending events in each other’s homes with very little thought of keeping themselves safe.”

Mosques in the affected areas were quick to remind worshippers that they were still open for Eid prayers, with safety precautions in place.

“The latest restrictions on gatherings do not apply to public places. We will carry on and perform the Eid Salah and Jummah. Please keep in mind that we have put in safety measures for everyone’s safety so please follow our advice,” the British Muslim Heritage Center in Manchester said in a statement.

“To attend the prayers, you have to be registered. You must wear a mask and bring your own prayer mat and a bag for your shoes. Anyone just turning up without being registered will be turned away.”


Jeddah center of Japan’s TeamLab promises an inspiring art space for Saudis

Updated 6 min 40 sec ago

Jeddah center of Japan’s TeamLab promises an inspiring art space for Saudis

  • Agreement between KSA and Tokyo-based technology group envisions region’s first digital-art museum
  • TeamLab Borderless Jeddah is in line with Kingdom’s Vision 2030 reform strategy and Quality of Life program

DUBAI: Japan’s TeamLab Borderless has brought to life the idea of a world of digital art without boundaries, a museum where art installations can move from one room to another and come alive in different parts of the world simultaneously.

Artworks such as these will be seen in Saudi Arabia, now that its Ministry of Culture has announced plans for a space in Jeddah to exhibit interactive digital artworks created by the Tokyo-based technology group.

TeamLab Borderless Jeddah, scheduled to open in 2023, will feature an array of interconnected artworks created by a group of physicians, CGI animators, engineers and mathematicians.

Kudo Takashi, TeamLab’s communications manager and brand director, said the plan is to create an art space in Jeddah that is positive and futuristic. “What we create isn’t something we can explain through words,” he told Arab News Japan.

Japan’s TeamLab looks to explore the world “beyond borders,” merging both arts and technology to create their Borderless exhibitions around the world. (Via TeamLab/Supplied)

Takashi said growing up in the UAE, he developed a deep appreciation and love for Arab countries, which inspired him to bring innovation to the region’s art landscape.

Formed in 2001, TeamLab sees itself as an international art collective. Its first permanent exhibition, TeamLab Borderless, opened at Tokyo’s Mori Museum in 2018.

The artworks are displayed across a 10,000-square-meter space. Another permanent exhibition opened in Shanghai, China, in November last year.

TeamLab museums are known for their interconnectivity between installations in different locations. Takashi said entering any of these is like entering a unified digital world.

“There’s no boundary between the visitors and the artwork. If you’re standing inside our space, some flowers will (start to) bloom around you. If you touch them, you’ll activate them,” he added.

Borders are mere “illusions,” Takashi said, adding: “Despite our age, location or background, we’re able to connect. As humans we naturally find a way to connect.”

This is apparent in TeamLab’s art, where if a visitor touches a piece in Tokyo it will be affected in Shanghai, demonstrating how interconnected the installations are.

Most of TeamLab’s work is programmed to respond to light, sound and touch. One piece, “Hopscotch for Geniuses: Bounce on the Water,” involves visitors hopping on shapes that appear on the ground, activating images and depictions of fish, insects and other animals.

Japan’s TeamLab looks to explore the world “beyond borders,” merging both arts and technology to create their Borderless exhibitions around the world. (Via TeamLab/Supplied)

Another piece, “Multi-Jumping Universe,” allows people to direct the flow of light and music around them simply through their own movements.

The Jeddah location is near Al-Balad, the city’s old town and a UNESCO World Heritage site.

There are plans for a children’s section, the objective being to inspire the next generation of artists through its exhibits.

The children’ sections at several of TeamLab’s other museums include experiences such as the Sketch Aquarium that highlight the power of imagination.

Children are invited to color in drawings of sea creatures, scan the artwork and then watch as their colored art piece floats in a virtual aquarium.

TeamLab Borderless Jeddah is in line with Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 reform strategy and Quality of Life Program, which intends to diversify the country’s economy through cultural and artistic ventures.

Saudi artists will be involved in the project, and arrangements for a similar exhibition in Riyadh are in the pipeline.

Takashi said TeamLab’s aim is to “explore the new relationship between humans and their world,” adding that in the 20th century people entered a new digital era that changed their relationship with the world and others.

The idea behind the installations, Takashi said, is to create an extension of people’s imagination and creativity.

TeamLab’s website puts it this way: “Within the digital domain, art is able to transcend physical and conceptual boundaries. Digital technology allows art to break free from the frame and go beyond the boundaries that separate one work from another.”

Takashi said it is important to consider the feelings and emotions that art installations can evoke in visitors.

“Human beings aren’t logical creatures. Groups can be controlled through logic, but as individuals they can be very emotional,” he added.

In order to elicit feelings and emotions in their patrons, however, TeamLab Borderless installations utilize different software and programs that the company created together with various hardware.

“In Japan’s Borderless, we use over 470 projectors and over 520 high-spec PCs,” Takashi said, adding that the technology is set in place to create a higher dimension in the immersive experience, something the organization is looking to expand on.

Explaining that the shift in perspective from 2D to 3D enhances how we experience art, he said: “We understand the world not just through our eyes and brains; the process is also physical and emotional.”

Japan’s TeamLab looks to explore the world “beyond borders,” merging both arts and technology to create their Borderless exhibitions around the world. (Via TeamLab/Supplied)

TeamLab has reconstructed many ancient Asian drawings using today’s technologies, and it is a sign of the times to come, he added.

Much of TeamLab’s work is inspired by Japanese traditions of immersive technology-based environments and workplaces, symbolized for instance by Takashi Murakami’s postmodern art movement Superflat, which combines the flatness of commercial graphic design and characters from popular Japanese anime and manga (animation and comics) with the influences of fine art.

Takashi maintains that good designs are those that can be used by everyone. “If you’re the only person who can understand a design, it isn’t good,” he said.

As for the relationship between art and design, he said: “If I compare what’s art and what’s design, design is the answer and art is the question.”

He believes that the right answer is always changing. “A good business model or answer may (have been) the correct answer in the 18th century, but not in the 19th century, due to the industrial revolution,” he said.

TeamLab’s aim is to create the questions, and for visitors to find the answers within the interactive artworks displayed in its installations.

Takashi said the overarching question that TeamLab is trying to answer is: “The borderless world is very beautiful, right?”

TeamLab also has a special section for children, which will be implemented at Borderless Jeddah to inspire the next generation of creatives. (Via TeamLab/Supplied)

Art may seem “weird,” but it is simply expanding on the questions asked, and the answer is in “global feelings,” he added.

Summing up the purpose of the Borderless exhibitions, Takashi said it is neither geographical nor political — the key idea is to understand the relationship between humans and the world.

He said TeamLab is “lucky to find good partners in Saudi Arabia who could understand what we’re talking about.” Equally, he is excited about the TeamLab projects that will be announced in the coming year.

Twitter: @DianaFarahANJP