THERE were mixed emotions in Reading when the second national lockdown ended.

On December 2, the government lifted the lockdown but Reading and most other areas of Berkshire were moved to Tier 2 (high alert), which meant they could not socialise with people from other households indoors.

Before the four-week lockdown, the leaders of Reading Borough Council had held discussions with the government about moving up to Tier 2, due to a steady rise in cases.

But when it ended, Cllr Jason Brock, leader of the council, announced the infection rate had “started to drop” and said everyone’s efforts during the lockdown were “helping our town to move forward”.

READ MORE: Cases in Reading and rest of Berkshire continue to rise dramatically

However, the government stated there was “an improving picture” across Berkshire “with the exception of Slough and Reading”.

At that point, Reading’s seven-day infection rate was 151.4 cases per 100,000 people. It was higher than the national average for the first time since May.

At the Royal Berkshire Hospital, 64 beds were occupied by Covid-19 patients and 17 of them were on mechanical ventilators.

That is less than half the number of beds occupied by Covid patients at the hospital on April 27, when it peaked at 153.

People were also offered a rare glimmer of hope, when it was announced the vaccine produced by Pfizer and BioNTech had been approved for use in the UK.

But a week later, on December 9, Reading’s seven-day infection rate reached 199.7 cases per 100,000, after 323 new cases.

And on December 16, when the government reviewed the tier restrictions, Reading’s hopes of returning to Tier 1 (medium alert) in time for Christmas had disappeared.

On that day, the seven-day infection rate hit 381.4 cases per 100,000, after 617 new cases.

So when the government announced Reading and the rest of Berkshire was moving to Tier 3 on December 19, no one was shocked.

Cllr Brock said the announcement was “not necessarily unexpected”, adding: “Of everyone who goes for a test, 6.1 per cent get a positive result, whereas in August this was just one per cent”.

However, people were still clinging on to their Christmas plans, as the government said they would be allowed to form a Christmas bubble with another household and see them between December 23 and December 27.

But the people of Reading had only been living under Tier 3 restrictions for a day, when the government made another surprise announcement.

It introduced Tier 4 restrictions, imposing them on Reading and most of the South East.

It meant that no one in those areas would be allowed to form a Christmas bubble and mix with other households inside, and all non-essential shops and hospitality venues would be forced to close again.

The government said the tougher measures were needed to curb the rapid spread of the virus, which is believed to have been caused by a new and more infectious variant.

However, Meradin Peachey, a director at Public Health Berkshire, admitted: “At the moment, we don’t know if that particular variant is in Berkshire.”

Her comments came on December 22, the day after 148 people tested positive in Reading. That is the highest number of cases recorded in Reading in a single day during the pandemic.

By Christmas Day, Reading’s seven-day infection rate had hit 420.9 cases per 100,000 people, after 681 new cases in a week.

READ MORE: Inside the Royal Berkshire Hospital at Christmas

People were told, in no uncertain terms, to stay at home and abandon plans for socialising over Christmas and New Years, as case numbers across the South East continued to rise and hospitals strained under the pressure.

“We’re seeing a rise in Covid positive patients as we head into the New Year,” said Nicky Lloyd, acting chief executive of Royal Berkshire NHS Foundation Trust.

“It is more important than ever to follow the ‘hands, face, space and fresh air’ rules and adhere to the current tier regulations. This will help to reduce the spread of infection.

“Restricting the spread of infection will ease pressure on our NHS services and enable our doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals to devote their time to treat those in urgent need of help.”

However, before the welcome end of 2020, people’s hopes of returning to some semblance of normality were raised by the news that the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine was approved for use in the UK.

According to the government, around two million people can now be vaccinated against the virus every week in the UK.