Virus hunters are hoping to be able to stamp down on the latest fast spreading coronavirus variant before it can tighten its grip on Bedford.
They are carrying out a two-pronged strategy to defend the borough against the variant that was first identified in India by testing and vaccinating as many people as possible.
A special meeting called last night (Thursday) was told that while the variant has spread widely across town, it is concentrated in four hotspots – Kingsbrook, Cauldwell, Queens Park and Wixams.
Meanwhile, Bedford Academy announced this morning it would revert back to remote learning in an effort to reduce cases within their school community.
“Come out and get tested”
Vicky Head, the director of public health, said: “We want to find as many cases as possible to prevent the onward spread.
“Our message is come out and get tested. You will be doing as much as you can to stop the spread in the borough.”
In terms of the people who have been catching it, the 11 to 22 year-old age group has seen the highest increases.
So-called “community transmission” has been taking place and figures have been rising among the under 11s, and in working age adults who have not been vaccinated.
Ian Brown, Bedford Borough Council’s public health chief officer, said the issue is a “big concern for us locally” with rates rising two fold to 128 cases per 100,000 population.
On just one day recently 75 positive tests were recorded. But rates in the most at-risk and most vaccinated over 60 age groups remains “reassuringly low”.
Public health chiefs are keeping a close eye on the numbers of people in hospital and on the local deaths.
Both of those indicators are looking OK so far, with no Covid deaths in the last week and lower than expected number of deaths overall.
But the meeting was reminded that it takes time for infection to lead to hospitalisation, serious illness and death.
“It is not clear whether the variant causes more serious illnesses but it is at least as transmissible as the Kent variant,” said Mr Brown.
But they do have confidence that the vaccines provide protection against the risk of hospitalisation and death.
“But it is not clear whether they protect against transmission or mild infection,” he added.
With that uncertainty in mind the experts are looking to test as many people as possible in order to get any infected people to isolate. Mr Brown said 99 per cent of people are isolating.
Super Sunday for second doses
At the same time NHS officials are ramping up their efforts to persuade residents to take the vaccine.
Jane Meggitt, the director of communications and engagement at the Bedfordshire NHS clinical commissioners, said they are planning to give as many people as possible their second jabs.
“On Sunday, we’re calling it Super Sunday, particularly for people who are looking to have their second doses slightly earlier,” she said.
“We really want this weekend to be when as many people come and get vaccinated as possible.”
But the meeting was reminded that people still need to be careful after receiving their second vaccine doses as it “takes two or three weeks to kick in.”
Three locations for drop-in sessions, with no need to book, are:
- Bedford Heights, Manton Lane, Bedford, MK41 7BJ
- Redgrave Children and Young People’s Centre, 27 Redgrave Gardens, Luton, LU3 3QN
- Saxon Court 1 Saxon Gate, East, Milton Keynes MK9 3EJ
All sessions run between 8.30 am and 3.00 pm.
Anyone who is 40 or over or eligible to be vaccinated for another reason should ideally bring their NHS number with them to their appointment.
Those people who already have a booked appointment at a vaccination centre, GP-led site or pharmacy should still attend their appointment as planned.
The first dose of AstraZeneca is for over 40s only. The second dose can only be given to those who have waited a minimum of eight weeks from their first dose of AstraZeneca.
by David Tooley Local Democracy Reporter
with additional reporting by Paul Hutchinson