Young woman wearing a face mask with the words "stayin' alert" on it Image copyright PA Media

The UK’s coronavirus alert level has been downgraded from four to three. The virus is now said to be in general circulation, but not high or rising quickly.

How is the risk level set?

Risk levels are measured by a five-level, colour-coded alert system.

The government unveiled the system on 11 May. The prime minister said it would help decide how tough social-distancing measures should be.

There are five levels:

  • Level five (red) – a “material risk of healthcare services being overwhelmed” – extremely strict social distancing
  • Level four – a high or rising level of transmission – enforced social distancing
  • Level three – the virus is in general circulation – social distancing relaxed
  • Level two – the number of cases and transmission are low – minimal social distancing
  • Level one (green) – Covid-19 is no longer present in the UK – no social distancing

What is the current level?

The alert level was reduced from level four to three on 19 June.

That means the epidemic is in general circulation but transmission is no longer “high or rising exponentially”.

Announcing the change, the chief medical officers of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland said: “There has been a steady decrease in cases we have seen in all four nations, and this continues. It does not mean that the pandemic is over. The virus is still in general circulation, and localised outbreaks are likely to occur.”

Level three is associated with a “gradual relaxation of restrictions”.

It’s the first time the alert level has changed since its creation on 10 May.

What determines the level?

  • Covid-19’s reproduction (R) number, a scientific measure of how fast the virus is spreading
  • The number of confirmed coronavirus cases at any one time
Image copyright PA Media/Downing Street Pool

In time, the government hopes, the level will reflect the threat in specific areas of England and be used to determine local restrictions.

Who sets the level?

The Joint Biosecurity Centre (JBC) – set up by the government in May – has the task of recommending what the alert level should be.

JBC scientists identify changes in infection rates using testing, environmental and workplace data.

The JBC also has an “insight team” which monitors local spikes of Covid-19 and advises health officials and local authorities.

Their recommendations are then reviewed and agreed by the chief medical officers of the four UK nations.

Does a change of level mean that restrictions are eased (or tightened?)

Not automatically. The Covid-19 alert level system is separate and independent from any government decisions on easing or tightening restrictions. In England, those decisions are determined by the government’s five tests.

However, he alert level system is used by the UK governments to help their decisions on the continuing easing of lockdown.

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