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Coronavirus UK: Government lowers Covid-19 alert level in 'big moment' for country

The Independent logo The Independent 19/06/2020 Andrew Woodcock

Chief Medical Officer for England Chris Witty. © Getty Chief Medical Officer for England Chris Witty. The official UK coronavirus alert level has been cut from 4 to 3, signalling that transmission of the disease is no longer regarded as "high".

Health secretary Matt Hancock hailed the move as "a big moment for the country" and praised the contribution of the public in getting the virus under control by complying with lockdown rules.

The green-light for the change came from the expert Joint Biosecurity Centre, which recommended a reduction in the level. It was jointly approved by the chief medical officers of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

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Mr Hancock said: “The UK moving to a lower alert level is a big moment for the country, and a real testament to the British people’s determination to beat this virus.

“The government’s plan is working. Infection rates are rapidly falling, we have protected the NHS and, thanks to the hard work of millions in our health and social care services, we are getting the country back on her feet.”

The change is likely to pave the way for further relaxations of the lockdown restrictions introduced by Boris Johnson in March. It will raise hopes that ministers will soon confirm the reopening of pubs and restaurants and permission for overnight stays in hotels and B&Bs from 4 July.

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But the chief medical officers warned that it did not mean the pandemic is over. They cautioned that localised outbreaks are likely to occur and urged the public to continue following safety guidelines.

The UK has remained at Level 4 of the alert system since its introduction in May, signifying that a Covid-19 epidemic is in general circulation and transmission is high or rising exponentially.

Level 3 indicates that the epidemic is in general circulation, but crucially makes clear that experts do not regard either the prevalence of the disease as high or its spread as rapid.

In a joint statement, the CMOs for the four nations of the UK said they had reviewed the evidence and agreee with the JBC’s recommendation to move to Level 3 across the entire country.

“There has been a steady decrease in cases we have seen in all four nations, and this continues,” they said.

“It does not mean that the pandemic is over. The virus is still in general circulation, and localised outbreaks are likely to occur.

“We have made progress against the virus thanks to the efforts of the public and we need the public to continue to follow the guidelines carefully to ensure this progress continues.”

When first announced in the government’s coronavirus recovery plan in May, the alert level was presented as the key to easing lockdown restrictions.

The plan stated that the timing of measures like the reopening of shops and the return of children to schools “must be warranted by the current alert level”.

But in the event, the government went ahead with two waves of relaxation on 1 and 15 June without the JBC assessing that the risk level had fallen.

At the time of the first set of adjustments to guidelines, Mr Hancock revealed that the Centre was not even up and running yet. And ministers later suggested that its principal role will be to monitor the disease for early signs of local outbreaks.

Stay at home as much as possible to stop coronavirus spreading - here is the latest government guidance. If you think you have the virus, don't go to the GP or hospital, stay indoors and get advice online. Only call NHS 111 if you cannot cope with your symptoms at home; your condition gets worse; or your symptoms do not get better after seven days. In parts of Wales where 111 isn't available, call NHS Direct on 0845 46 47. In Scotland, anyone with symptoms is advised to self-isolate for seven days. In Northern Ireland, call your GP.


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