London (CNN)Coronavirus conspiracy theorists have spread baseless rumors online — frequently targeting minorities — since the beginning of the pandemic. In England the latest wave of vitriol criticizes Muslims, blaming them for spreading Covid-19.
In the latest sign of Covid-19-related racism, Muslims are being blamed for England’s coronavirus outbreaks
Muslims were caught off guard last week, when the UK government suddenly announced local lockdowns in a slew of areas in northern England where cases have spiked. The announcement came just hours before Eid al-Adha, one of the holiest festivals in Islam.
The affected areas included Greater Manchester, Burnley, Blackburn with Darwen, Bradford and Leicester — all places with a significant Islamic population according to the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB).
The restrictions — published late last Thursday evening — banned people in the named areas from mixing with other households.
Local politicians and Muslim leaders criticized the timing of the announcement.
“The timing … it focused people’s minds [on Muslims],” Rabnawaz Akbar, a Labour Party councilor in Manchester, told CNN.
The government “have done it on the eve of Eid,” leading people to think “it must be the Muslim community’s fault,” Akbar said. “You see how people would have come to the assumption. [The government] have done it without thinking but of course, they’re highlighting a particular demographic. And people are angry and now that anger is focused on a particular community.”
A Downing Street spokesperson said in a statement to CNN: “Decisions on lockdowns are based solely on scientific advice and the latest data. Where there are local outbreaks, our priority will remain taking whatever steps are necessary to protect people.”
Akbar also criticized Craig Whittaker, a Conservative MP who suggested that England’s ethnic minorities were not adhering to pandemic guidelines.
“What I have seen in my constituency is that we have areas of our community … that are just not taking the pandemic seriously enough,” Whittaker said Friday, when asked about the local lockdowns during an interview with LBC radio.
When asked if he was talking about the Muslim population, Whittaker replied: “Of course.”
“If you look at the areas where we’ve seen rises and cases the vast majority — not, by any stretch of the imagination, all areas — but it is the BAME [Black, Asian, and minority ethnic] communities that are not taking it seriously enough,” he added.