MATT Hancock has denied that new restrictions imposed in parts of northern England were aimed at curtailing Eid celebrations.

Hancock announced last night that "immediate action" was needed across Greater Manchester and parts of east Lancashire and West Yorkshire to keep people safe.

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

Asked on BBC's Today programme whether the measures were announced late on Thursday night to stop Eid celebrations from taking place, 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."

Eid al-Adha - the festival of sacrifice - follows the completion of the annual Hajj pilgrimage.

It is the second major celebration of the Islamic calendar after Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of the month of fasting called Ramadan.

Many Muslims celebrate Eid al-Adha, which can last between two to four days, by sacrificing an animal for feasts to be shared by family, friends and those in need in large groups.

The new rules, which came into effect from midnight, bans people from different households in Greater Manchester, parts of east Lancashire and West Yorkshire from meeting each other inside their homes or in gardens following a spike in virus cases.

The UK Government has said it will not "shy away" from taking further action to tackle coronavirus across England if necessary.

The new rules also ban members of two different households from mixing in pubs, restaurants and other hospitality venues, but these businesses will remain open for those visiting individually or from the same household.