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COVID-19: UK alert level downgraded as threat of NHS being overwhelmed recedes

Written by on 25 February 2021

The UK’s COVID-19 alert level has been downgraded, with the threat of the NHS being overwhelmed receding.

The UK’s chief medical officers say the alert level should move from 5 to 4 as the numbers of patients in hospital are “consistently declining and the threat of the NHS and other health services being overwhelmed within 21 days has receded”.

Level 4 means transmission of COVID-19 is now “high or rising exponentially” compared with level 5, the highest level, where there was “a risk of healthcare services being overwhelmed”.

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The COVID alert system being used by the government Image: The COVID alert level has dropped to level four

The UK has been on level 5 since the beginning of January when it was moved from level 4 as it went back into lockdown after Christmas.

In a joint statement, the four UK chief medical officers and NHS England’s national medical director said they agreed the level should be downgraded following advice from the Joint Biosecurity Centre “and in light of the most recent data”.

They added: “The health services across the four nations remain under significant pressure with a high number of patients in hospital, however thanks to the efforts of public we are now seeing numbers consistently declining, and the threat of the NHS and other health services being overwhelmed within 21 days has receded.

“We should be under no illusions – transmission rates, hospital pressures and deaths are still very high. In time, the vaccines will have a major impact and we encourage everyone to get vaccinated when they receive the offer.

“However, for the time being, it is really important that we all – vaccinated or not – remain vigilant and continue to follow the guidelines.

“We know how difficult the situation has been and remains to be for healthcare workers, we thank them for their immense effort, skill and professionalism throughout the pandemic.”

The decision to move the UK to level 4 comes three days after Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced a roadmap out of lockdown, with the hope that the measures taken plus the vaccination roll-out will mean people in England will have measures fully lifted by 21 June at the earliest.

The COVID alert level system was introduced in May to reflect the degree of threat to the UK from the virus. It is designed to mirror the independent terror alert system.

It is determined by the number of cases and the R number – the average number of people each infected person passes the virus to.

This is how the levels have changed since the introduction in May:

May – Level 4

19 June – Level 3

21 September – Level 4

4 January – Level 5

25 February – Level 4

When Mr Johnson announced the alert level system he said: “That COVID alert level will tell us how tough we have to be in our social distancing measures. The lower the level, the fewer the measures. The higher the level, the tougher and stricter we will have to be.”