THE main Muslim cemetery in Bradford is struggling to keep up with demand as the second wave of Covid-19 hits, Professor John Wright has said.

Professor Wright, an epidemiologist and head of the Bradford Institute for Health Research, shared his concerns in his weekly diary for the BBC which has ran throughout the Coronavirus pandemic.

He said it is going to take "medical detective work" to work out the cause of the increase in deaths, but thinks multi-generational homes could be a factor.

Professor Wright said: "My friend Zulfi Karim [president of Bradford Council for Mosques] called me on Friday with news about a sharp surge in deaths within Bradford's Muslim community.

"He said: 'We've got three shifts of gravediggers and bereavement support people working from six in the morning until 10pm, preparing graves. In the last 10 days we've had 38 burials, which would be the figure we'd normally have in a bad winter month.

"'As fast as we're digging the graves we're filling them up with dead bodies. It's really really concerning, and my staff are getting to the stage where we're at full capacity. We're having to bring in a construction company to see if we can find new methods to design and prepare for digging a grave.'

"By Saturday the figure had risen to 44.

"Zulfi is also the head of the Muslim Bereavement Service. He's attended every funeral, while also coping with long Covid himself."

Professor Wright said Mr Karim said he had "never seen anything like it" and he never thought he would experience this in the UK in a "non-war situation".

"In the Muslim tradition," he continued, "a person should be buried within 24 hours of death, but Zulfi says it hasn't always been possible to keep up.

"It's going to take some work to fully understand what is going on.

"According to the Office for National Statistics, Bradford is currently seeing about 100 deaths per week (from all causes), up from 60 or 70 in the summer, but this isn't especially surprising; we expect this number to increase with the onset of winter.

"In the hospital, Covid-19 admission rates have surpassed the first peak in April, but the good news is that mortality remains considerably lower - less than a quarter of the rate in spring - as we have become experts in caring for and treating Covid patients. The average length of stay at Bradford Royal Infirmary has more than halved - from 13 days to six.

"Zulfi's hunch is that cases of Covid-19 may be going undiagnosed and that more people are dying from it at home than the statistics show.

"Back in February when the pandemic was hurtling towards us from the other side of the world, we watched how it devastated Italy and Spain and predicted that Bradford would also be badly hit. The city has a high population density and overcrowded housing, but also shares with Italy and Spain a pattern of multi-generational family homes.

"One of the notable features in modelling population spread of infectious diseases is that the young have many more daily contacts than the old. The return to school and university in September will have increased these contacts and the resulting viral transmission, but the importance of maintaining education far outweighed the clinical risk from the virus.

"In cities like Bradford where school children and students (who often also live at home) were mixing with grandparents, this risk equation was always going to be different than in cities with fewer multi-generational homes. We now have a much clearer understanding about the variables that increase the risk of death from Covid - including ethnicity, gender and co-morbidities - but age is by far the greatest factor. And when grandparents share a house with young people, this heightens the risk.

"Over the last couple of weeks I have been hearing of more and more personal tragedies that illustrate this problem."

Professor Wright said he had spoken to Bradfordian Gulsoon Akhtar, whose father died from Covid-19 in hospital. Miss Akthar is a community engagement worker whose job it is to spread information about Covid-19.

Miss Akhtar told him: "It's absolutely awful how many people are dying. My dad was only 63.

"He'd had an angina attack several years ago but he was well and he had nine beautiful kids. I was just so overwhelmed and shocked.

"Our youngest brother is only 17. We are all devastated and my mum has lost her best friend after 35 years of marriage."

Businessman Shadim Hussain lost his mother to Covid-19. She died the day she was taken into hospital after deteriorating quickly.

He told Professor Wright: "In the morning we picked up the body and we did the bathing of the body. By midday we got the body prepared for burial and our slot at the cemetery was at 7pm that night.

"It was in the dark and there was something special about it - it felt quite peaceful. I got a call from Zulfi and he said, 'Whatever you need just let me know.' It was like having an army of people around, who wanted to help us."

Prof Wright added that the coronavirus vaccine "cannot come soon enough". He publishes his Covid diary every week.