LONDON: The UK government has been criticised by its own Islamophobia adviser for refusing to publish evidence behind the Health Secretary’s claim that people were “not abiding to social distancing” as he imposed a lockdown on 4.6 million people hours before Eid al-Adha began.
Matt Hancock wrote on Twitter on July 30 that the COVID-19 spread was “largely due to households meeting and not abiding (by) social distancing,” before going on to introduce strict new lockdown guidelines for large swathes of northern England — an area of the country with above-average Muslim populations.
Qari Asim, the deputy chair of a government taskforce on anti-Muslim hatred, told the Guardian that Hancock's claim added to “hateful narratives” that indicated Muslim communities were not following government guidelines or adhering to social distancing.
He urged the government to release the data that supported the claims, saying that the announcement “gave the impression that Muslim communities were not social distancing and were ignoring the government guidelines. Therefore it’s only right that full data is made public to make things clearer.”
The lockdown sparked a frenzy of Islamophobia on far-right social media, with many extremists seizing the opportunity to blame Muslims for the spread of COVID-19.
The timing and manner of the lockdown was widely criticized by police chiefs, members of parliament and Muslim leaders at the time for its “shameless scapegoating of Muslims.”
Asim said: “We saw a rise of Islamophobia online [in the aftermath of the announcement] and the Muslim communities were seen as the cause of another lockdown. Some people definitely felt that the timing of the announcement was very poor. The way it was made showed disregard for a faith community.
“We don’t want to give rise to hateful narratives and it’s really important that the authorities ensure that such hateful narratives are not supported.”
Hancock’s announcement had come just hours after an advisory group to the British government said that localized lockdowns could lead to a “divided nation” and be “exploited by extreme rightwing groups.”
Wajid Khan, the mayor of Burnley, one of the towns placed under lockdown, said the manner of Hancock’s announcement led Muslims to feel “scapegoated and blamed” and “used, confused and abused.”
The Department of Health and Social Care has confirmed that it holds the evidence to support Hancock’s claim, but has refused to publish it. It said to publish the data would jeopardise “the internal deliberative process as it relates to policymaking.”