By Paul Gerrard (Socialist Alternative, ISA in England & Wales)

On Thursday 30 July at 9.15pm new restrictions were imposed on over 4 million people living in Greater Manchester, East Lancashire and parts of West Yorkshire. The restrictions applied from midnight, ie within three hours.

Disgracefully the changes were announced on Twitter which most people don’t even access daily, let alone hourly. Worse still they impacted severely on Muslim families due to celebrate Eid Al-Adha imminently, many of whom had already bought in food for family celebrations. One Bradford resident commented on Friday afternoon: “Can you imagine them pulling this on Christmas Eve? No way would that have happened.” Even Baroness Warsi, a former Tory minister, complained about the decision and the cavalier way it was made.

The lack of notice contrasts with the start of lockdown which was warned about in advance but delayed until Mothers’ Day had passed. There is more than a whiff of racism about the last-minute decision which wrecked Eid for thousands of Muslim families with the obvious implication that they are to blame for the rise in infection rates through a failure to socially distance.

Blackburn with Darwen, with a significant British Asian population, has been struggling for weeks with elevated rates of infection. Oldham tops Greater Manchester’s league table and counts many British Pakistani and Bangladeshis among its inhabitants. Multi-generational households may be a factor in these areas, as they were in the devastating epidemic in Northern Italy. But overwhelmingly it is poverty and cramped living conditions which feed the virus. In a recent ‘spike’ in Liverpool (outside the restricted area) it was found that half the increase in infections was focussed on one ward, Princes Park, where 90% of the housing was category A ie the worst type, where most residents don’t even have a garden. And many black and minority ethnic (BAME) people are working in the health and social care sectors, putting themselves at risk of picking up the virus and often suffering serious complications or death.

This government is stumbling its way through the pandemic, issuing contradictory and confusing messages, and spreading a little racism as it goes. You can’t meet a friend in their garden or celebrate Eid but you can spend money in a café, pub or restaurant. Where are you more likely to catch the virus? These panic responses are caused by the government’s failure to create a functioning ‘track and trace’ system which could suppress the virus and deal with local outbreaks. Now Blackburn with Darwen, badly let down by the government’s track and trace system, has had to start up a system of their own!

We need to stop the BAME blame game. It’s the Tories we need to blame.