Churches in the north of England will be permitted to remain open as the government orders a renewed lockdown across the region amid a spike in Covid-19 infections.
On Thursday night, Health Secretary Matt Hancock announced that those residing in Greater Manchester, east Lancashire and parts of Yorkshire must once again stop meeting people from other households in a bid to slow the rates of transmission. Churches, however, will be allowed to remain open for public worship on the proviso that social distancing and sanitation measures are adhered to.
The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government said: "Whilst communal prayers can go ahead, it is important that the venue is COVID-19 Secure and all attendees maintain social distancing from anyone you do not live with, or who is not in your support bubble."
A support bubble is defined as when "a single adult living alone, or a single parent with children under 18" forms an "exclusive network with one other household where social distancing does not have to be observed".
The government's lockdown announcement comes as Muslims across the country prepare to celebrate Eid, with many expressing frustration that pubs and restaurants are allowed to remain open while household gatherings — a key feature of Eid festivities — are prohibited.
The Muslim Council of Britain's secretary general, Harun Khan, 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."
He added: "The UK Government has failed to provide clarity on the shockingly short notice and the reasoning behind the new rules that British Muslims deserve."
Hancock told Radio 4's Today Programme: "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.
"For instance celebrating Eid in parks where there's more space available and of course outdoors is safer than indoors."