The UK has lowered its covid-19 alert level, meaning transmission of the virus is no longer judged to cause a risk of overwhelming the NHS.

The country’s four chief medical officers have agreed the covid-19 alert level should move from five – its highest – down to four as the risk of the NHS being overwhelmed within 21 days “has receded”.

The news came in a joint statement from Professor Chris Whitty, Northern Ireland’s Chief Medical officer Dr Michael McBride, their Scottish counterpart Dr Gregor Smith and Welsh medical chief Dr Frank Atherton – along with NHS Director Professor Stephen Powis.

They said: “Following advice from the Joint Biosecurity Centre and in the light of the most recent data, the four UK Chief Medical Officers and NHS England National Medical Director agree that the UK alert level should move from level 5 to level 4 in all four nations.”

They added: “The health services across the four nations remain under significant pressure with a high number of patients in hospital, however thanks to the efforts of public we are now seeing numbers consistently declining, and the threat of the NHS and other health services being overwhelmed within 21 days has receded.

“We should be under no illusions – transmission rates, hospital pressures and deaths are still very high. In time, the vaccines will have a major impact and we encourage everyone to get vaccinated when they receive the offer. However for the time being it is really important that we all – vaccinated or not – remain vigilant and continue to follow the guidelines.

“We know how difficult the situation has been and remains to be for healthcare workers, we thank them for their immense effort, skill and professionalism throughout the pandemic.”

It comes after the ranking moved up to the highest level at the start of January as a new strain of Covid spread throughout the UK.

Previously, at level 5, there was “a risk of healthcare services being overwhelmed”.

The government unveiled the system in May last year.

The prime minister said it would help decide how tough social-distancing measures should be.

There are five levels:

  • Level five (red) – a “material risk of healthcare services being overwhelmed” – extremely strict social distancing
  • Level four – a high or rising level of transmission – enforced social distancing
  • Level three – the virus is in general circulation – social distancing relaxed
  • Level two – the number of cases and transmission are low – minimal social distancing
  • Level one (green) – Covid-19 is no longer present in the UK – no social distancing

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