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West Berkshire has its highest Covid infection rate since the pandemic began

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West Berkshire has the highest Covid rate in Berkshire – with cases doubling in the last week.

The figures are nearly twice the national average and are reported to be the highest they have been since the start of the pandemic.

The district’s Local Outbreak Engagement Board heard on Tuesday night that there was a clear link between the infection rate and false negative results taken at Newbury Showground and sent to the now closed Immensa Lab in Wolverhampton.

Coronavirus rates in West Berkshire are well above the national average (52722456)
Coronavirus rates in West Berkshire are well above the national average (52722456)

The lab may have given more than 43,000 inaccurate PCR test results from 14 local authority areas, including West Berkshire.

West Berkshire’s service director for communities and wellbeing, Matt Pearce, told the meeting: “We have seen a continued rise in our rates. West Berkshire is ranked worst across the rest of the Berkshire authorities.”

He said case rates increased by 100 per cent in the week to October 20, from 406 to 905 per 100,000.

“These are the highest it has ever been and has the higher incidence rate than the South East, which is 526.4 per 100,000 and the national average, which is 458.5 per 100,000.”

So far, 15,475 people have tested positive for Covid in West Berkshire since the start of the pandemic.

Most of the Covid cases are being shown in the 11 to 16 age group (2,268 per 100,000) and council officials will be holding meetings with district headteachers to discuss additional safety measures following the half-term break.

“I am being asked what is causing the rise in the rates from the Imensa lab situation,” said Mr Pearce.

“There is certainly an association and a correlation of some kind here.”

He pointed to available data from each of the 14 local authorities affected by the lab results.

“There is also a new sub variant of the Delta virus which seems to be more prevalent in the South West which is potentially more transmissible, but this is currently under investigation.

“The other hypothesis which has been put forward is that some of these local authorities have less collective immunity.

“There are 1,200 per 100,000 in the Swindon area – not rates we have seen so far in the pandemic yet.”

No current impact on admissions at the Royal Berkshire Hospital was reported, although four people have been put on ventilators this week. Admissions have doubled to 23.

Four people have died from Covid in the last month. The board heard that, so far, no contact had been made by government on the so-called Plan B.

Mr Pearce said: “We are not aware of any suggestion it will come into play, but we are preparing to consider bringing in mandatory vaccine-only status in certain settings if evidence and data suggests the NHS could be faced with unsustainable pressure.”

Other measures could be instructions to work from home and bringing back face coverings in certain settings.

Chairing the meeting, Graham Bridgman (Con, Burghfield and Mortimer) said that the public needed to get vaccinated.

He said: “I am emphasising the message to the public that we are getting from the acute trusts that vaccination is the key defence in this battle and those who are hospitalised and regrettably may be dying in hospital are very much seen as those who are not vaccinated or partly vaccinated.

“We need to get that message out to get vaccinated."

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