Eleven mosques in Pendle have paused congregational prayers in a bid to reduce the possible spread of the new Covid variant.

This week Lancashire’s Directors of Public Health wrote to places of worship urging them to close during lockdown to protect communities. Their request has been endorsed by the Lancashire Faith and Community Cohesion Group.

Councillor Mohammed Iqbal MBE, Leader of Pendle Council, said:“We support this move as we’re seeing a growing number cases in Pendle.

“There are very worrying increases in hospital Covid cases, as well as, sadly, more people dying from this deadly virus. We must do all we can to protect people and support the NHS.

“We know that NHS and hospital capacity is under enormous strain across Lancashire.”

At present, Government legislation does allow places of worship to remain open in England provided people do not mix with anyone outside their household or support bubble.

Councillor Mohammed Iqbal said: “I’m pleased to say that places of worship in Pendle are responding to this urgent request.

“Already, Friday 8 January, 11 mosques in Pendle have suspended all congregation prayers and we are urging all places of worship to follow this urgent request from our Directors of Public Health.

“Places of worship have provided valuable support to people during the pandemic.

“I want to thank them for the part they have played and continue to play, including online prayers and additional help for our community such as food banks.”

The request to places of worship came from Lancashire Resilience Forum Partners: Dominic Harrison, Director of Public Health for Blackburn with Darwen Council Dr Sakthi Karunanithi, Director of Public Health for Lancashire County Council Dr Arif Rajpura, Director of Public Health for Blackpool Council.

The letter states, "As Directors of Public Health representing Lancashire, we are strongly advising all faith communities to pause communal prayer and worship during the lockdown period, to reduce the possible spread of the new Covid variant.

"We recognise that this is a big request, but it will help to protect our communities at this critical stage of the pandemic.

"While we can’t require our faith communities to do this, we are asking everyone to make this temporary change to protect each other.

"You have already made changes to your worship arrangements, but we are asking for caution at this difficult and concerning time.

"We’re seeing increasing numbers of cases in Lancashire, and worrying increases in the number of people hospitalised from Covid, as well as increasing numbers of deaths. NHS and hospital capacity is under enormous strain across Lancashire.

"Communal worship has not been banned under new lockdown, but we know that there are significant infection risks, due to people socialising before and after worship.

"We know that many people who have tested positive for Covid haven’t shown any symptoms.

"Over the past 10 months, we know that there have been significant disruption to the usual worship and celebrations which people would usually take part in.

"Thank you to our faith groups here in Lancashire for your continuing support to deal with Covid and its effect on our communities. You have helped your communities in so many different ways during these difficult times."

"If you decide to continue with communal prayer and worship during lockdown, despite our strong advice on this issue, then we advise you to undertake a new, revised and detailed risk assessment of your current infection control procedures.

"The new variant of the virus is increasing the seven-day rates by more than 250% in some Local Authority areas of the North West, and is up to 70% more infectious. This new increased risk of transmission will require a much higher level of infection control and compliance, to achieve the same level of safety as the previous measures."