FOR days if not weeks Muslims in Bolton, and across Greater Manchester, have been preparing for Eid Ul-Adha, a huge religious festival on the scale of Christmas.

And this weekend was set to be extra special as it is the first time family and friends could gather ­— in line with strict guidelines ­— to celebrate as the last religious festival was during strict lockdown measures.

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Matt Hancock, Health Secretary, announced on Thursday evening that "immediate action" was needed across Greater Manchester, to keep people safe.

He has been accused of making the announcement "at the last minute" as it came just hours before the Islamic festival of Eid-Ul-Adha began on Friday.

Among those who had to cancel Eid plans at the last minute was Bolton South-East MP Yasmin Qureshi.

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She said: "No one has an issue with lockdown, but the timing was like cancelling Christmas on Christmas eve.

"People had booked tickets to travel, they had been preparing for days, bought so much food.

"I was excited for Eid because I had made plans.

"I was looking forward to seeing people within the bubble guidelines. I have been preparing food and have so much because they were coming for a meal.

"This announcement could have been made earlier this week.

"It looks like the Government is making policies on the hoof ­— it is shambolic and shows the incompetence.

"Nobody is complaining about lockdown measures, but we could have been told earlier, there was no indication and to announce it on Twitter like that."

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Now people across Bolton are coming up with great ways to make sure the food does not go to waste, including distributing it to their neighbours, or arranging delivery of it to the houses of people who were supposed to be meeting, as in the case of Ms Qureshi.

One resident said: "I get we are in a pandemic but announcing the lockdown a few hours before Eid its just not right, a lot of food to the neighbours I guess."

Another posted: " It must be heartbreaking. I'd be gutted if Christmas was cancelled. Hope you guys get chance for a delayed celebration."

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Nick Baily assistant chief constable said yesterday: "Many of our Muslim communities will have woken up this morning to find that their celebrations this year may need to be changed at short notice. I can only imagine how upsetting this may be, and our officers will engage with community partners and our Muslim communities with understanding and compassion in the coming days to help explain the guidelines and keep people safe.

"I just want to once again say thank you to the people of Greater Manchester for their continued support ."

The Health Secretary has denied that the new restriction imposed in parts of northern England was aimed at curtailing Eid celebrations.

Asked on BBC's Today programme whether the measures were announced late on Thursday night to stop Eid celebrations from taking place, Mr Hancock said: "No, 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."

The new rules, which are in effect, bans people in the restricted areas from meeting each other inside their homes or in gardens following a spike in virus cases.