The alert level for COVID-19 has been dropped to ‘gradual relaxation of restrictions’, following advice from the Joint Biosecurity Centre and the chief medical officers for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
The COVID-19 alert system was first announced early in May, alongside a three-stage plan to ease restrictions across the UK. Currently, the UK is in the second stage, where gradual opening of schools and non-essential retail can take place, which began on the 15 June. The lowering of the alert level to 3 means that there can be ‘gradual relaxation of restrictions’, and there is currently a review taking place to on whether social distancing guidelines can be reduced from 2m to 1m.
Matt Hancock, Health Secretary, commented on the lowering of the UK’s alert level, said this ‘was a big moment for the country’ and that it reflected ‘a real testament to the British people’s determination to beat this virus’.
The COVID-19 alert system uses a number of factors to determine the overall stage of the outbreak and measures that should be in place at each stage. The stages range from 5 – ‘risk of healthcare services being overwhelmed’ – to 1 – COVID-19 no longer present in UK. The factors considered include the reproduction (or R) number of the virus, which measures how fast it is spreading, the number of new infections and whether hospital and intensive care admissions and deaths per day for the virus have fallen in the past four weeks.
However, the chief medical officers have warned that though ‘there has been a steady decrease in cases we have seen in all four nations’, this does not mean that the pandemic is over. They also warned that ‘localised outbreaks are likely to occur’.