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: Testing and vaccinating as many people as possible.
A special meeting called Thursday, May 20, was told that while the variant has spread widely across town, it is concentrated in four hotspots – Kingsbrook, Cauldwell, Queens Park and Wixams.
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.
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.”