August 06, 2020

Coronavirus: What is the UK's 'COVID alert level' and what does it mean?

May 28, 2020

As lockdown measures are gradually eased across the UK, the "COVID alert level" is being lowered.

The system - unveiled by the prime minister earlier in May - involves a scale of one to five, which he said would reflect the degree of threat to the country from coronavirus.

Mr Johnson said it is determined by the reproduction rate of COVID-19 known as the "R number" - which is the average number of people each infected person transmits the virus to - and number of cases.

On 19 June, the health secretary confirmed the alert level had been reduced from four to three - in what he called a "big moment" for the UK.

It followed a recommendation by the Joint Biosecurity Centre and was endorsed by the chief medical officers of each of the four nations.

But what are each of the alert levels supposed to mean - and what action will taken as a result?

Level 5 - The highest on the scale, this indicates there is a "material risk" of the NHS being overwhelmed. Reaching this level would involve tighter social-distancing measures than have been imposed to date in the UK.

Level 4 - The level at which the UK has been since the system was announced. This means the COVID-19 epidemic "is in general circulation" and the "transmission is high or rising exponentially". Social-distancing regulations in force since March will remain unchanged as long as this is considered to be the case.

Level 3 - While this level also suggests the epidemic is "in general circulation", it omits the statement "transmission is high or rising exponentially". In lowering the alert level to this point, official guidelines suggest the government will begin the "gradual relaxing of restrictions and social-distancing measures".

Level 2 - To shift to this level, the government guidance says the virus would be present in the UK, but that the number of cases and transmission is low. It says this would then allow "no or minimal social-distancing measures", but with enhanced "testing, tracing, monitoring and screening".

Level 1 - The level which the government eventually hopes to reach, this would indicate "COVID-19 is not known to be present in the UK". The guidance suggests the only action required at this stage would be "routine international monitoring".

Quarantine and social-distancing measures will be relaxed or tightened depending on where the UK is on the scale.

It uses a colour-coded "traffic light" system similar to those employed by a series of governments to monitor specific threats facing the country, such as terrorism.

The announcement of the system came not long after Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove denied it was true the government was considering a traffic light strategy to come out of lockdown, telling Sky's Sophy Ridge on Sunday: "No, it is not."

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