Faith settings to be advised on how to reopen safely in Bedford borough as vaccination slows

Guru Nanak Gurdwara Bedford
Guru Nanak Gurdwara in Bedford is one of the centres where over 18s can get a COVID jab.

Churches, mosques and temples can expect to receive a letter from Bedford Council soon with advice on how they can safely reopen for group worship.

A meeting heard even though communal worship was not banned for this lockdown, most faith leaders agreed that they would not continue while Covid-19 (coronavirus) case rates were high.

Now as case rates are falling, faith leaders have been lobbying the council for information.

Mayor Dave Hodgson, the Lib Dem mayor of Bedford, asked his public health chief for clarity at last week’s meeting of the local outbreak board.

“The Government guidance was pretty silent on that,” he said.

Ian Brown, the council’s chief officer for public health said: “The Government didn’t ban communal worship this time round, so it’s always been permitted.

“But we took a decision locally to advise that communal worship didn’t continue while we were experiencing very high rates of infection in Bedford.

“Many of our faith settings took that advice on board which we were very grateful for.”

Mr Brown added: “We are finalising our advice to them at the moment but I think that certainly we would feel that doing so in line with the Government’s own opening up of indoor settings would make sense.”

“We will be writing out to our settings very soon,” he told Thursday’s meeting.

St Pauls Church
St Paul’s Church in the heart of Bedford town centre

The meeting also heard that this week’s vaccination programme has been limited by a national issue with supply.

The meeting heard there were to be no jabs today (Monday).

On Tuesday and Wednesday vaccination was to be limited to the Guru Nanak Gurdwara, and Thursday and Friday at King’s House.

But the board was told that the slowdown was anticipated, so no-one should have had an appointment cancelled.

With second doses due to be administered soon, the meeting was told that supplies are expected to pick up again. And even if there is another delay, people should not worry, because their first dose will protect them.

Mr Brown said infection numbers are going the right way, although tragically there were 31 deaths in the week ended February 12.

Case rates among the over 60s is falling fastest, and there are now 40 people in Bedford Hospital with the disease. Pressure on intensive care is dropping, he said.

“We are hoping to see a reduction in deaths very soon but we are not out of the woods yet in Bedford,” he added.

He repeated the hands face space advice.

“The vaccine is not a magic bullet,” he said.

“We will need to be vigilant for some time to come to prevent a fourth wave.”

Dr Vijay Nayar, from Bedford On Call (Bedoc) said so far in the borough 91% of the over 80s, 93% in the 75-79 cohort, 90% of 70-74 year olds and 82% of the 65-69 group had the jab.

“Supply continues to be lumpy and there is a bit of a famine this week,” he said. “We should be back in feast mode from March 24.”

by David Tooley
Local Democracy Reporter

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