Bracknell Forest saw an enormous surge in Covid-19 cases in December.

When the second national lockdown was lifted on December 2, Bracknell’s seven-day infection rate stood at 117.5 cases per 100,000 people.

By January 1 in 2021, it had reached 849.5, after 1,041 people tested positive in one week, and around one in four tests (26 per cent) conducted in Bracknell were coming back positive.

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Public health experts said a new and more infectious strain of the virus, first detected in Kent, had caused the sudden increase in cases across the South East and this prompted the government to introduce Tier 4 restrictions on December 20.

Figures published by Public Health England show that local hospitals were also feeling the strain at that time.

The number of Covid-19 patients being cared for by Frimley Health NHS Foundation Trust passed 500 for the first time during the pandemic on December 31.

And in the first week of January, the Royal Berkshire Hospital announced that staff were treating more than 200 Covid-19 patients for the first time and they had created additional capacity in the intensive care unit.

That’s why few were surprised when Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced another indefinite national lockdown on January 4 and confirmed that schools would be closed.

Has the lockdown worked?

According to figures published by Public Health Berkshire, 2,491 people tested positive for Covid-19 in Bracknell in December – that is the highest number of confirmed cases recorded in a single month.

In January, Bracknell recorded another 2,280 confirmed cases.

But since the infection rate peaked at 849.5 cases per 100,000 on January 1, it has been falling steadily and now stands at 240.7.

That is because the number of new cases has dropped slightly each week.

This suggests the lockdown is working and Bracknell’s infection rate is now almost level with the national average 240.2.

The positivity rate has also dropped significantly in Bracknell. On January 26, it was revealed that around one in 10 (11 per cent) of tests were coming back positive.

Pressure on local hospitals has eased too.

On January 11, the number of Covid-19 patients being cared for by Frimley Health NHS Foundation Trust peaked at 620.

But that number has been falling gradually since then and on February 2 the trust was treating 442 patients for the virus, according to the latest government figures.

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The number of Covid-19 patients at Royal Berkshire Hospital reached 264 on January 1, after a sharp increase in December, but then dropped over the following two weeks.

The hospital was treating 201 patients for the virus on February 2.

What else is being done to reduce the infection rate?

Bracknell Forest Council has been working with the government to ramp up testing.

On January 15, the council began offering lateral flow tests, which provide results in around 30 minutes, to asymptomatic key workers who still leave their home on a regular basis.

The scheme aims to stop them from spreading the virus without realising it, as around one in three people who catch the virus never show any symptoms.

The council also opened a walk-in testing centre for people with symptoms at Bracknell Leisure Centre in January and it has been operating a local contact tracing system since November.

Covid marshals have been on patrol with Thames Valley Police to make sure people are following the government guidance and not meeting in large groups.

Cllr Paul Bettison, leader of the council, said: “I want to say a big thank you to everyone who has been following the stay at home rules – you are making a difference in our fight against Covid-19.

“Very sadly, some people continue to flout the rules and risk their own health and that of their loved ones.

“In order to spread the message that it’s important to stay at home unless for essential reasons, an ad bike has been cycling a loop from Westmorland Park to The Look Out.

“This bike has important public health messages on it and has passed through at least 16 popular green spaces across the borough, including Lily Hill Park and South Hill Park.

“Over the past two weekends our Covid-19 marshals have also been out in full force to remind people that they must follow lockdown rules to reduce the risk of spreading the virus and to avoid being hit with a hefty fine.”

Earlier this week, concerns were raised after several cases of the highly contagious South African variant of the virus were identified in neighbouring Surrey.

But council leaders say no cases of that variant have been detected in Bracknell yet.