The ‘deep-dive’ investigation into the reasons why Bedford’s coronavirus infection rate is not dropping, in-line with the national average, won’t reveal its findings for at least another two weeks.
The Bedford Independent reported last weekend (20 June) that Public Health England (PHE) and the Joint Biosecurity Centre had agreed to carry out an investigation.
On Monday (22 June) the two government bodies started an investigation, working with health teams at Bedford Borough Council and Bedfordshire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust.
But, Bedford’s Mayor Dave Hodgson says the results won’t be known for another fortnight.
“They’re due to report on 6 July, we’ve tried to pull that forward and I’m hopefully they’ll do that,” he said.
However, if there are any findings during the investigation the team can take action to try and bring down infection levels as quickly as possible.
This may include localised lockdowns and asking businesses that have opened to close again temporarily.
And Mayor Dave says he doesn’t think there is just one reason why Bedford has been experiencing a different infection rate.
“Personally, I think it’ll be a number of different things,” he said. “Something doesn’t seem right and obviously we want to contain the virus.”
Worryingly, the Mayor did confirm that no one knows the r-number for Bedford, because local authorities are not being told and for regions it’s only an estimate.
But, “you could surmise, it’s pretty high” said Mayor Dave.
While the rest of the UK will soon see pubs, hairdressers and other businesses open up and social distancing reduced to ‘one metre plus’ rule, it’s a different story in Bedford.
“While these rates remain high we’re asking everyone to continue to stay home where possible and when you go out make sure you social distance,” said Dave.
Concerns over data
At the time of writing, Bedford has had approximately 800 reported cases of coronavirus, 201 deaths at Bedford Hospital and a further 21 in care homes.
“It is important that we get the data locally,” said Cllr Coombes, leader of Bedford Borough Conservatives. “We need to find out who has been infected and where they are.
“Local Authorities can only do that if they have access to data. So calls to have access to more data from central government are correct.”
Speaking of the data the ‘deep-dive will uncover, Dr Aliko Ahmed, PHE regional director, told the BBC: “By examining this information, it should be possible to identify the emergence of ‘hotspots’, so that appropriate action can be taken.”
Are local businesses reopening?
Bedford Borough Council say they are working to support businesses that have opened or intend to open, but are advising many of them to remain closed for as long as they can.
They also recommend that Bedfordians continue with more restrictive guidelines locally, even if they are being relaxed elsewhere:
- Continue to keep two-metres apart
- Wear a face covering particularly when indoors in public or on public transport
- Regularly wash your hands with soap and water, or use a hand sanitiser
Some businesses have agreed to remain closed for a few more weeks, stating that their customers’ safety is their priority.
Many smaller establishments might also find it impossible to open and still cover costs with only a small number of customers allowed inside, even with a smaller ‘one metre plus’ rule.
In a post on their Facebook page, Rebecca and Ronnie Toms, who run The Devonshire Arms on Dudley Street, said: “We have earmarked Saturday 18 July as a potential opening date all being well.”
The Castle Pub on Newnham Street also announced they wouldn’t be opening for the time being.
Some businesses continue to offer takeaways, but Bedford Borough Council is seemingly erring on the side of caution and advising businesses to stay closed for now.
Something Cllr Coombes agrees is a good idea: “It’s right that we get businesses open as quickly as possible but the health issue has to take priority,” he said.
“Particularly as locally we have this high rate of infection. If we don’t get the health side of things right, we’ll have another peak, it will get out of control and we’ll have to put in more restrictive measures.”
Bedford Borough Council say that applications for businesses to receive coronavirus support grants are still open and encourage all businesses to see if they are eligible.