THE BISHOP of Bradford has written an open letter calling for the district to stay united in its fight against COVID-19, and for people to avoid blaming other groups or communities for Bradford’s high rate of infection.

The Right Reverend Toby Howarth has praised the district’s “joyful sense of togetherness”, which he says has been evident during the lockdown, but is worried that it could all be “undermined” as a result of “finger-pointing”, “fear” and “prejudice.”

Bishop Toby said: “A silver lining of the dark COVID-19 cloud is that combating the virus has brought us together - from Ilkley, where one of the district’s first cases was recorded, to Bradford Royal Infirmary, where so many have been nursed to recovery.

“We clapped and banged pots and pans for our heroic NHS carers on Thursday evenings. Extraordinary numbers volunteered, whether getting food to shielded people, phoning those who were isolating or just keeping an eye on vulnerable neighbours”, he added.

“One of the greatest examples was the nation uniting in support of Captain Tom Moore, who was recently welcomed back to his birthplace of Keighley. He personified our shared and simple commitment to the common good in the toughest of times.

“After years of divisive rhetoric around Brexit and the last election, it has been so encouraging to witness a unified approach across our communities.

“I’ve been encouraged to see so many people from our churches, mosques and other religious and community organisations building a joyful sense of togetherness in the face of often appalling suffering and sadness.

“I’m concerned, however, that this togetherness we’ve built is at risk of being undermined. A note of blame and finger-pointing has crept into some of the way we talk about other people and other places.

“It’s easy to blame others when we have become tired and worn down by effects of the virus on our families, jobs and mental health.

“We want to be able to hug our loved ones again, to be able to work and travel without fear, and want our children to be able to get safely back to school.

“It is easy to become frustrated when restrictions are not only slow in being lifted, but are even being re-imposed.

“It is, of course, important to hold ourselves, our communities and our leaders to account - but it is also vital not to give in to fear and prejudice.

“At their best, all our faiths teach the importance of caring for each other, and especially for the most vulnerable - even at personal cost.

“Jesus taught us to love our neighbour as we love ourselves, and he taught that neighbours weren’t only people like ourselves.

“As we bump along on the path to the opening up of our churches, schools and work places, now is the time to hold our nerve and strengthen the new togetherness that has been hard-won.

“Keeping that sense of shared purpose and identity would make a fitting legacy for the legion of unsung heroes across our great district - and of course, for Captain Sir Tom too.”