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UK’s Covid alert level lowered to 3 as vaccines and lockdown relieve pressure on hospitals

Chief medical officers urge ‘vigilance’ as next stage of lockdown lifting nears

Liam James
Monday 10 May 2021 15:06 BST
Coronavirus in numbers

Medical chiefs have agreed to lower the Covid alert level for the UK as the vaccination programme and lockdown restrictions ease pressure on the NHS.

The level will be dropped to 3 from 4, meaning transmission of the virus is no longer high or rising exponentially.

The chief medical officers of the four UK countries took the decision along with Professor Stephen Powis, national medical director of NHS England, in light of recent data showing infections have been steadily declining and following advice from the Joint Biosecurity Centre.

Level 3 of the five-tier alert system means the virus remains in general circulation. The government had set criteria for moving down from level 4, including fewer than 10,000 new infections per day and a weekly case rate lower than 25 per 100,000.

The national R rate was supposed to have been consistently below 1 for at least four weeks before lowering the alert level. Lower estimates suggest this was the case, though the higher estimate for the R rate in England crept up to 1 or above last week.

Announcing the move in a joint statement, medical chiefs said: “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.”

“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.”

The measure comes ahead of an announcement expected later on Monday from Boris Johnson on the next stage of the government’s roadmap out of lockdown.

The prime minister is set to formally announce the lifting of measures next Monday, 17 May, allowing cinemas, hotels and B&Bs to reopen, and pubs and restaurants to serve customers indoors.

The Covid alert level was last dropped in February after being raised to five in the new year as infections soared following a period of lockdown relaxation and the arrival of new variants.

Since then, the virus has continued to decline gradually with new daily cases now nearly five times lower than at the end of February.

The vaccination programme has now seen many millions more protected against the virus in Britain and Covid-related hospitalisations have plunged to around 100 per day compared with nearly 1,000 when the alert level was last dropped.

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