UK health chiefs on Monday agreed to lower the country’s COVID-19 alert level from four to three, which indicates that coronavirus transmissions are no longer “rising exponentially” but are instead in “general circulation”. The five-level alert system was devised last year to determine the levels of lockdown and social distancing required to keep the rate of infections from the deadly virus under check.
As Britain moves through its roadmap of easing lockdowns, with Prime Minister Boris Johnson set to confirm that more restrictions on indoor gatherings will be lifted from next Monday, the chief medical officers of all four regions of the UK agreed to a change in the alert level with a note of caution.
“Following advice from the Joint Biosecurity Centre and in the light of the most recent data, the UK Chief Medical Officers and NHS (National Health Service) England National Medical Director agree that the UK alert level should move from level 4 to level 3,” they said in a joint statement.
“Thanks to the efforts of the UK public in social distancing and the impact we are starting to see from the vaccination programme, case numbers, deaths and COVID hospital pressures have fallen consistently. However, COVID is still circulating with people catching and spreading the virus every day so we all need to continue to be vigilant. This remains a major pandemic globally,” they said.
“It is very important that we all continue to follow the guidance closely and everyone gets both doses of the vaccine when they are offered it,” they added.
The statement is signed off by Professor Chris Whitty, Chief Medical Officer for England, Dr Michael McBride, Chief Medical Officer for Northern Ireland, Dr Gregor Smith, Chief Medical Officer for Scotland, Dr Frank Atherton, Chief Medical Officer for Wales, and NHS England National Medical Director Professor Stephen Powis.
The downgrade follows a fall in cases, hospital admissions and deaths. On Sunday, the UK recorded two deaths within 28 days of a positive coronavirus test and 1,770 coronavirus cases.
“The data reflects what we already knew – we are not going to let this virus beat us,” Johnson said.
“The roadmap remains on track, our successful vaccination programme continues – more than two-thirds of adults in the UK have now had the first vaccine – and we can now look forward to unlocking, cautiously but irreversibly,” he said.
Under the alert levels set by the health chiefs, Level 2 – indicating that the number of cases and transmission is low, and Level 1 – that COVID-19 is not known to be present, is where the UK hopes to reach in the coming months.
At the peak of the pandemic last year, the UK was put at the highest alert level of 5, when there was a real risk of the country’s health service becoming overwhelmed.
The change in status comes as NHS in England confirmed that one third of adults have now had both doses of the COVID-19 vaccine. Latest data shows that 14,871,208 people aged 18 and over had received their first and second dose of the jab, with more than two-thirds of adults having already had their first jab.
“Yet another incredible NHS milestone has been reached as one in three adults in England have now had both doses of the covid vaccine – meaning that they have maximum protection from the virus,” said Dr Nikki Kanani, GP and medical director for primary care at NHS England.
“Reaching this milestone is no accident – it is down to months of hard work and everyone in the NHS who has played a role in this, is helping to protect millions of people from serious illness and saving lives,” she said.
Overall, more than 53 million vaccine doses to protect against COVID-19 have been administered in the UK.