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Postcard from Zaharah: A taste of Freedom Day

IT was such a wonderful coincidence that Hari Raya Aidiladha recently fell on a day after what British Prime Minister Boris Johnson declared as Freedom Day for all of us.

So, there was a certain kind of excitement as we dressed up to actually venture out for Hari Raya prayers at the local mosque. It was after all our first 'normal' Hari Raya since the pandemic hit us last year. For the past two Hari Raya Aidilfitri and one Hari Raya Haji, we had dutifully followed the UK government directives not to go to the mosque, especially when the virus was still raging.

But Freedom Day or not, the virus — a new and vicious variant this time — is still raging. However, a promise is a promise, even with science advisers warning against such a move which they predict would result in a spike in cases and swamp the hospitals again.

But Johnson, hair still fashionably untamed, and supported by his new Health Secretary Sajid Javid, appointed after the Matt Hancock fiasco, made a recorded message to wish all Muslims a blessed Eid, before he and Javid, a few days later, both tested positive and were forced to self isolate — again.

So, with rendang on the stove, nasi himpit nicely turned out in the fridge and satay beautifully marinated, we set off for the third session of prayers at our local mosque.

Fellow Muslims we met were equally excited, wishing Eid Mubarak to all and sundry.

According to restrictions for after July 19, masks are still to be worn, especially in public transport and crowded places. Many people, in the heatwave currently hitting the UK, decided to do without; in the bus that we took as well as in the mosque. As for social distancing, for a while there were some attempts but as soon as the imam recited the takbir, it was too late to make an escape.

For the first time in a long time, we were able to entertain guests at home; not just in the garden and according to the rule of six, or just with people in our bubble. We could have any number of guests without any worry that neighbours would snitch us to the police. And that was, I must say, quite a relief to be able to fan the satay on the grill and have the aroma of satay drifting in the summer air without any fear.

That is indeed what Johnson had been preparing us in his road map to freedom from suffocating restrictions, albeit constant warnings from naysayers about a possible third wave.

It was, I must add, a brave move, especially after the massive turnout at Wembley stadium for the Euro 2020 Finals and at Wimbledon.

Today, six days after Freedom Day, it was reported that although cases have surged, vaccines have successfully reduced the tidal waves of coronavirus deaths.

Covid hospital patients are said to be "typically younger, less sick" and being discharged faster than in previous waves. The elderly, says one report, reap the benefits of getting their jabs sooner.

It is indeed comforting to know that people are now much less likely to be infected, or end up in hospital, or if they do, they don't need a ventilator or become a statistic. There was more cause for optimism, according to the report, as Department of Health figures showed daily infections dropping to the lowest level for 10 days.

So, on the fifth day of freedom, yesterday, still with the sun beating down on us, we ventured out to see London stirring back to life. Our destination was the Regent's Canal just behind King's Cross station, where an atmosphere of carnival greeted us.

London suddenly looked colourful. The bank of the canal was open to the public with colourful cushions strewn at careful distance as revellers in their summer clothes enjoyed free movies from across the canal. People were kayaking and enjoying river cruises on beautiful boats.

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