Covid alert level 3: what threat change means for the UK – as restriction changes are confirmed in England

The Covid-19 alert level in the UK has been downgraded after a ‘consistent’ fall in cases, hospital admissions and deaths

The four chief medical officers of the UK have announced the Covid-19 alert level in the UK should be lowered from “level 4” to “level 3”, thanks to the success of the vaccination programme and social distancing restrictions.

In a statement, the chief medical officers of England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, said: “Following advice from the Joint Biosecurity Centre and in the light of the most recent data, the UK chief medical officers and NHS England national medical director agree that the UK alert level should move from level 4 to level 3.

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“Thanks to the efforts of the UK public in social distancing and the impact we are starting to see from the vaccination programme,” they said, “case numbers, deaths and Covid hospital pressures have fallen consistently.

(Photo: JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP via Getty Images)

"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.”

Here is everything you need to know about it.

What does it mean?

Level 3 means that the epidemic is in general circulation, but transmission of the virus is no longer deemed to be high or rising exponentially.

More than 53 million vaccine doses have been administered in the UK (Photo: Victoria Jones - Pool / Getty Images)

The UK Covid-19 threat level has not been below level 3 since the start of the pandemic, and the last time it was at level 3 was mid September 2020.

The threat level was raised to its highest level – level 5 – on January 4 when officials raised concerns the NHS was at risk of being “overwhelmed”. It was downgraded to level 4 in February.

The Prime Minister also announced that people in England can take a step closer to normality from next week as more indoor mixing and hugging loved ones will be permitted once more.

Johnson confirmed that May 17, most social contact rules outdoors will be lifted, although gatherings of more than 30 will remain illegal.

Indoors, the rule of six or two households will apply, while indoor hospitality, entertainment venues such as cinemas and soft play areas, the rest of the accommodation sector, and indoor adult group sports, and exercise classes can reopen.

Other measures include allowing up to 30 people to attend weddings, receptions and wakes, as well as funerals.

Professor Sir John Bell said the nation was in a “very strong position” to move forward with the easing of restrictions which will enable people to “try and get back to normal”.

Oxford University’s regius professor of medicine told Good Morning Britain that data from vaccination programmes from the UK, Israel and the US shows a “rather rapid fall-off” in cases of disease, hospital admissions and deaths after rising numbers of people were given their first dose of vaccine.

Is the pandemic coming to an end?

The announcement of the level 3 downgrade came as the latest figures showed a third of UK adults are now fully vaccinated against Covid-19, with a total of 17,669,379 people having received both jabs – the equivalent of 33.5 per cent of all people aged 18 and over.

More than 53 million vaccine doses have been administered in the UK.

Dr Mike Tildesley, from the University of Warwick and a member of the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling (Spi-M), said that figures for hospital admissions and new infections are similar to low levels seen last August, but urged people to “act responsibly” as restrictions were lifted.

He told BBC Breakfast: “I think it’s actually very important for our mental health and wellbeing that we can hug our loved ones, but to me the key message is, if and when this comes in, we need to remember that the pandemic hasn’t gone away.

“We are still a few steps away from normality, so it’s really great that we can hug our loved ones, but what we need to remember is we need to be a little bit careful.”

He said that the easing of restrictions could see the R number rise above 1, but added: “The key thing for me is what we want to avoid is hospital admissions going up and people dying going up.

“And if we can keep those out of the low levels they are then hopefully this resumption of hugging can be done safely and we can proceed again to the June 21 relaxation.”

Dr David Nabarro, special envoy on Covid-19 for the World Health Organisation, urged people to maintain social distancing and keep using face masks.

“If I were able to talk to everybody personally over the coming weeks,” he told Sky News, “I would say: You must restart life and everybody wants you to do that, but please be really careful, maintain that physical distance of between one metre and two metres, especially indoors, and don’t forget to wear your face masks because that really can give extra protection.”

Meanwhile, BioNTech has said its Covid-19 vaccine with Pfizer does not need to be tweaked to tackle variants of the virus currently in circulation, but it said that it has a strategy to “address these variants should the need arise in the future”.

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