Urgent plea to businesses to help Bedford avoid ‘disastrous’ local lockdown

A minority of businesses have been failing to follow social distancing guidelines, a meeting heard.
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With Bedford on the Government’s watch list as an “area of concern”, councillors are worried that people who are carrying coronavirus but not showing any symptoms could help push the town into a local lockdown.

Thursday’s meeting of Bedford Borough Council’s local outbreak engagement board was told that three people had died of covid-19 in the seven days to Wednesday.

Even though key numbers are going in the right direction, such as testing, and the numbers of people found with covid-19, the situation remains “volatile.”

Cllr Louise Jackson (Lab, Harpur), the council’s portfolio holder for health and wellbeing, appealed to businesses not to risk a local lockdown.

“We all appreciate it’s been a really, really difficult time for businesses particularly in the hospitality industry. Many are opening in incredibly difficult circumstances with much reduced capacity.

“I really commend those businesses who are doing their very best to adhere to the guidance because it really is very important.”

But Cllr Jackson said she had seen examples of businesses that haven’t been adhering to the guidance.

Number of cases detected over timeNumber of cases detected over time
Number of cases detected over time

“I can understand the challenges that they face – they’ve had a long period where they’ve had no revenue whatsoever and they are trying to make up for lost time,” she said.

“We may well have seen our figures drop this week but we clearly are in a bit of a volatile position in Bedford.”

She said businesses taking bookings for large tables for diners who are clearly from lots of different households, or holding events where people can’t stay apart is “just not sensible at the moment.”

Cllr Jackson warned that the consequences of Bedford being locked down and businesses forced to close again would be “disastrous.”

Recent list of most affected wardsRecent list of most affected wards
Recent list of most affected wards

Borough mayor Dave Hodgson (Lib Dem) said: “We do not need a lockdown Leicester-style because that will absolutely hammer the businesses and it would not be good for them.”

And borough chief executive Philip Simpkins said the council would not hesitate to act if venues were breaking the rules. The council believes it has environmental health powers to close businesses.

Officials have been talking to “community and faith leaders” and three businesses and warning them about what could happen, the meeting heard.

The meeting also heard from public health officials who said there had been an outbreak among four people in the same household in Bromham and Biddenham ward, as well as four cases in more than one care home in Harpur.

He said more testing of healthcare workers is picking up more “asymptomatic” cases of the disease.

But there remains an incomplete picture of the number of asymptomatic cases in the community.

Ian Brown, the borough’s chief officer for public health, said: “We are getting a much closer handle on what the true community prevalence is. There’s still a lot out there that we are not detecting.”