The UK’s coronavirus alert level has been downgraded from four to three, its chief medical officers have said.
Under level three, the virus is considered to be “in general circulation” and there could be a “gradual relaxation of restrictions”.
Previously transmission was considered to be “high or rising exponentially”.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the change was “a big moment for the country” and showed that the government’s plan was working.
The decision to reduce the alert level followed a recommendation by the Joint Biosecurity Centre, the chief medical officers for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland said.
‘Pandemic not over’
“There has been a steady decrease in cases we have seen in all four nations, and this continues,” the medical officers said in a joint statement.
But they warned it “does not mean that the pandemic is over” and that “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,” they said.
There are five coronavirus alert levels in total.
Two factors determine the UK’s alert level. They are:
- 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
Mr Hancock said recent progress in both factors showed “a real testament to the British people’s determination to beat this virus”.
“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,” he added.
The move comes weeks after some restrictions were first eased in each UK nation.
At the end of May, Prime Minister Boris Johnson told MPs that “we’re coming down the Covid alert system from level four to level three tomorrow, we hope, we’re going to be taking a decision tomorrow”.
But the next day, the government decided instead not to lower the alert level and it remained at four until now.
When the government first announced the alert system in early May, it also published a three-step plan to ease restrictions.
Step one, the first easing of lockdown, involved allowing people to take unlimited exercise and spend more time outdoors.
Step two permitted the gradual opening of schools and non-essential retail, which is the current situation.
The third step in government’s published plan, which it said was to take place “no earlier than 4 July”, includes opening further non-essential services like hairdressers and beauty salons, restaurants, pubs and leisure facilities.