How has Omicron affected the Biggleswade area?

'The country is doing tremendously with its efforts for the booster programme'

By Joanna Gravett
Friday, 17th December 2021, 1:04 pm
Updated Friday, 17th December 2021, 1:06 pm

As the Omicron variant sweeps across the UK, the Chronicle examines how Covid-19 levels have impacted Biggleswade, and what is being done to protect the community.

On Monday, chief medical officers announced that the UK’s coronavirus alert level had been raised from three to four due to the spread of Omicron, meaning that the “transmission [of Covid-19] is high or rising exponentially”.

In response to the increasing number of cases, people aged 18 and over in England are now eligible to book a Covid-19 booster jab, with the government aiming to offer all adults in England the chance to book a booster before December 31.

Chicksands Covid-19 Vaccination Centre.

A total of 78,610 new UK lab-confirmed Covid-19 cases – the highest daily figure since the start of the pandemic – was recorded on Wednesday.

A spokeswoman for Jardines Pharmacy, which has a base in Biggleswade and the wider Beds and Bucks area, said: “We’ve increased our capacity at weekends and evenings and the 15-minute wait time has been removed (as of December 16) to speed up the process and get as many people vaccinated as we can.

“Obviously there will still be processes in place. There will still be people there to make sure you feel OK, and who will advise precautions – don’t drive for 15 minutes; keep your mobile phone on you in case you are unwell.

“The demand has definitely gone up in the last week since Boris Johnson announced that the programme was speeding up.”

Jardines Pharmacy is administering the Moderna vaccine for those who haven’t yet had their injections, and for those who need boosting.

If you have had AstraZeneca or Pfizer for your first and second doses, you will be able to have Moderna as your booster.

“It has been signed off by the chief medical officers,” the spokeswoman added.

“Our staff are all fully on board [with the government’s aims] and have agreed to work extra hours so we can get the process done. We are doing our best to help the community.

“The uptake has been really good. Please use the national booking system to make your appointment.”

Meanwhile, the Chronicle spoke to Biggleswade publican, Eamonn Watson, who runs The Rose, High Street, to see how the hospitality trade has been affected. He said: “I think it’s a bit difficult to judge at the moment.

“If we’ve got something on people are coming in, but some are cancelling; we held a quiz night and a few people cancelled. People are either isolating, or worried about getting pinged.

“I think it’s going to be very difficult times, because in our trade a lot of places can take 25 per cent of their annual turnover from the last week of November to New Year’s Eve. Then you try and live off the fat in January and February. It’s been a very challenging year, but I can see more restrictions coming...”

Conservative MP for North East Bedfordshire, Richard Fuller, reassured businesses that the Chancellor Rishi Sunak has been “very alert” to these concerns.

On Tuesday it was announced that MPs had backed all ‘plan B’ measures, despite a large Tory rebellion.

Explaining his voting decisions, starting with his vote in favour of the extension of facemask enforcements, Mr Fuller said: “It’s not particularly inconvenient and I don’t regard it as a draconian measure. People have the sense from the government about why it’s important. We need to protect the vulnerable.”

On his votes against introducing the use of Covid passes to nightlife venues, and making vaccinations mandatory for NHS workers, he said: “I think NHS workers need persuasion and encouragement, not compulsion. For some, they will have good reasons why they haven’t had it. An impact assessment said that we could lose 80,000 plus workers [if it came into force].

“As for Covid passes, a lateral flow test beforehand is probably far more valuable. I think they will have a marginal benefit and they don’t fit into the free society direction we’re going in.”

He added: “However, we should be very confident that the country is doing tremendously with its efforts for the booster programme.”

A spokesperson for Bedfordshire, Luton and Milton Keynes CCG said: “The vaccination sites such as Priory House in Chicksands have been very busy since Sunday’s announcement.

“Priory House has opened up extended hours operating 8am – 8pm 7 days a week, and until 10pm on the most popular days. Walk in appointments are available throughout the day, though mornings are busier and there can be a queue.

“Patients with pre-booked appointments have a separate queue and don’t have to wait. The team of vaccinators, and volunteers are doing an incredible job delivering over 1,500 vaccines a day to the local population.

“Yesterday they broke their record by administering 1,620 vaccines in one day.

“All sites are looking to increase capacity to meet the new demand and in addition Shefford Health centre are vaccinating, providing additional opportunity.”