What is alert level 4? New Covid rules and restrictions explained - and what UK’s alert levels mean

The UK Government recently announced the country’s Covid alert level has been raised to four - but what exactly does this mean?

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The UK has been moved into Covid alert level four amid fears over the surging Omicron variant.

The government made the announcement that the alert level would be raised from level three to level four after the rapid spread of the Omicron variant in the UK.

What does Covid alert level four mean?

The UK government has moved the Covid alert level from three to four.

Level four is described as when transmission of the virus is high or rising exponentially.

Previously in level 3, the virus was described as being in general circulation, with the move to level four introduced as Covid-19 cases surged across the country.

Why has the alert level been raised?

The Covid alert level has been raised because cases of the Omicron Covid variant are now surging across the country.

In the UK 4,713 cases of the strain have been confirmed, with 1,573 of those reported over the weekend alone.

Experts have said the newest strain is much more transmissible than the dominant strain, Delta, with cases doubling every two to three days.

The decision to raise the alert level in line with this came from the UK’s chief medical officers.

In a statement, they said: “Data on severity will become clearer over the coming weeks but hospitalisations from Omicron are already occurring and these are likely to increase rapidly.

"The NHS is currently under pressure mainly driven by non-Covid pressures. With a variant spreading with increased transmissibility and reduced vaccine effectiveness, we are likely to see this pressure rise soon."

The UK has been placed at Covid alert level four.The UK has been placed at Covid alert level four.
The UK has been placed at Covid alert level four.

What is the UK Covid alert system?

The alert system has been in place to indicate how much of a threat Covid poses the UK at any one time.

It is marked by five colour-coded levels, from the lowest (level one) to the highest (level five) risk posed to the public.

The call is made by the UK’s chief medical officers from across the UK nations.

The last time the Covid alert level was at four was in February 2021. This was reduced to level three in May 2021, where it stayed until the most recent announcement.

Does level four mean more restrictions?

Although the raising of the alert level to four comes with warnings that Covid currently poses a serious risk to the UK public, there are no specific restrictions being suggested alongside this.

This is because the alert level is only an indication and advisory of how serious the situation is.

When the UK was last in level four, back in February 2021, there were many restrictions in place including schools closed, non essential businesses closed, a ‘Stay At Home’ order and no household mixing.

Boris Johnson last week announced that England would be placed into ‘plan B’ restrictions, which includes the reintroduction of masks in more venues, a vaccine passport for venues such as cinemas and theatres and working from home, in a bid to curb rising infections.

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon urged Scots to cancel their Christmas work parties, and is expected to announce more restrictions. Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford has told Welsh citizens restrictions will be reviewed week-by-week on the lead up to Christmas.

The UK Government has lamented that the best way to fight the virus is through the vaccination booster programme, which was not available in February 2021.

It has recently been announced the vaccine and booster programme has been expanded, with an aim to boost all eligible adults by the end of December.

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