There was anger and frustration but grudging acceptance in Greater Manchester on Friday after the government unexpectedly tightened restrictions to combat a steady rise in coronavirus cases.
Zameer Ahmed, who runs a convenience store in south Manchester, believed the measures were necessary. “I can understand why they have done this,” he said. “A lot of people come into the shop and refuse to wear masks, especially older people.”
Health secretary Matt Hancock late on Thursday announced that from midnight people were banned from meeting different households indoors or in private gardens in an area of northern England that is home to 4.5m. Pubs and restaurants were included in the announcement, although they remained open for single households.
Officials said the sudden change in guidance was based on test and trace data that showed coronavirus cases were rising in parts of Greater Manchester, East Lancashire and West Yorkshire.
The measures came into effect just three hours before the Muslim festival of Eid al-Adha began. Some worshippers attending Friday prayers were annoyed that the biggest family gathering of the year had been cancelled at such short notice.
“I think it is targeted at the Muslim community,” said Mohamed Ilyas as he queued outside Makki Masjid in Longsight, an area of Manchester. “They opened the pubs where people are all on top of each other. They knew Eid was coming. My mum is 86 and the government is telling me I cannot visit her. I do not know if she will be there for the next Eid.”
Rabnawaz Akbar, a Labour councillor and trustee of the mosque, said the anger would subside but the speed of the announcement had shocked people. He said he had cancelled a visit from his brother on Friday, and the family would have to consume their lavish Eid banquet themselves.
“We should keep out of the blame game,” said Mr Akbar. “Once you blame a community they will blame somebody else and we are not going to get through this if we are divided.”
Many of the affected areas have large populations of Pakistani and Bangladeshi heritage. Local authorities say the virus has spread there because a number of people live in multigenerational households.
“I live with my mum and three daughters,” said Mr Akbar. “They work and they could get the virus, be asymptomatic, and infect my mum. We all share one bathroom.”
He added that many Asian residents also have frontline jobs such as taxi drivers and security guards that expose them to infected people.
But while the streets of Muslim neighbourhoods in Longsight were quiet on Friday, elsewhere young people continued to gather in big groups.
Police had to disperse a crowd who arrived for an illegal party at Audenshaw reservoir east of Manchester. To the west in Salford Quays, around a hundred teenagers sunbathed and swam with little social distancing as temperatures soared on one of the hottest days of the year.
According to the new restrictions, the police can now impose £100 fines for people found to be in breach of the rules but Greater Manchester police said on Friday they would continue to “police by consent”.
“We will only take enforcement action as a last resort, when people are not listening and putting others at risk,” said assistant chief constable Nick Bailey.
In Cheadle, a leafy suburb of Stockport, the high street was busy and families flocked to Bruntwood Park.
Carolyn Barrell, who was sitting in the park with a friend and her grandchildren, said: “I saw it coming. People are not sticking to the rules. You see people in the shops right next to each other,” she said.
She lives alone but her friend, Jennifer Caine, is in her “social bubble” so will still be able to see her at home. Ms Caine said she could not understand why people could go on holiday but not into someone’s garden.
Local politicians have also questioned the details of restrictions, although they back the general policy. A joint statement from Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham and leaders of the city’s 10 boroughs said the sudden announcement and lack of detail had caused “confusion and distress”. The statement added that restaurants would suffer a loss in trade and would need extra help from the government. It also called for the ban on meeting in gardens to be scrapped.
Sitting in Bruntwood Park, Ms Caine agreed with many others in the area that the restrictions are likely to remain in place for a while.
“We will be like this until we get a vaccine,” she said.