The recommendation was announced by the UK’s four chief medical officers after new infections surged to an estimated 6,000 per day
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The UK’s coronavirus alert level is to be raised from 3 to 4 in the first change since June after infections soared.
The four Chief Medical Officers recommended the change tonight and it was confirmed by Health Secretary Matt Hancock.
The change was announced after a grave warning from the nation’s two top scientists – and as Boris Johnson prepares to announce new restrictions tomorrow.
It’s understood No10 is considering a national 10pm curfew for pubs and restaurants, and a ban on any two households socialising together indoors.
A string of exemptions to the meetings ban would be in place – including a fresh exemption announced today to enable childcare for a child under 14.
It is not clear yet if the measures will apply to the whole of UK or just England, but the PM has held talks with devolved governments in a bid to take one UK approach.
In a TV address to the nation this morning, Chris Whitty and Patrick Vallance outlined the grim data that may force new national lockdown restrictions within days.
The Chief Medical Officer and Chief Scientific Advisor hinted social gatherings could be the first clampdown when Boris Johnsongives a speech later this week.
And they said if cases continued to double every week, the total number of new cases could reach 50,000 a day by mid-October.
Mr Hancock said there are now thought to be around 6,000 new cases per day and the virus is rising in all age groups.
A statement tonight by the four UK Chief Medical Officers said: “The Joint Biosecurity Centre has recommended that the COVID-19 alert level should move from Level 3 (A COVID-19 epidemic is in general circulation) to Level 4 (A COVID-19 epidemic is in general circulation; transmission is high or rising exponentially).
“The CMOs for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have reviewed the evidence and recommend all four nations of the UK should move to Level 4.
“After a period of lower COVID cases and deaths, the number of cases are now rising rapidly and probably exponentially in significant parts of all four nations.
“If we are to avoid significant excess deaths and exceptional pressure in the NHS and other health services over the autumn and winter everyone has to follow the social distancing guidance, wear face coverings correctly and wash their hands regularly.
“We know this will be a concerning news for many people; please follow the rules, look after each other and together we will get through this.”
Mr Hancock said the move reflects “the significant shift in the current threat” posed by coronavirus.
“This country now faces a tipping point in its response and it is vital everybody plays their part now to stop the spread of the virus and protect lives,” he said.
“The first line of defence has always been all of us playing our part, remembering hands, face and space, the rule of six and self-isolation of those who risk passing on the virus.”
There are five alert levels, set by a Joint Biosecurity Centre that was established in May to deal with the pandemic. They are:
Level 2 COVID-19 is present in the UK, but the number of cases and transmission is low
Level 5 As level 4 and there is a material risk of healthcare services being overwhelmed
As of Monday 21 September the alert level is four, meaning “a COVID-19 epidemic is in general circulation” and “transmission is high or rising exponentially”.
It was last changed on Friday 19 June when it was lowered from four to three.
Previously to June, the alert level was at four since the system was set up in May.
Changes to the alert level are recommended by the JBC and then signed off by the four Chief Medical Officers in the four nations of the UK.
The level is set primarily by R – the number of new people each carrier is infecting – and the overall number of coronavirus cases.
We know from the roadmap for easing lockdown, published on May 11, that the alert level is designed to “communicate the current level of risk clearly to the public”.
It crunches of all the risks facing the UK into one “star rating”, to give the public a vague idea of how bad things are.
It shows the threat now – not the potential future threat if the virus spins out of control again.
What’s controversial is how much the alert level affects lockdown directly. When it was first announced in May, the government said there was a link – but now it claims there isn’t a link at all.
When the alert level system was set up in May, the government linked it to the easing of lockdown.
In a slide on May 11 (above), is said that at level 4, “current social distancing measures and restrictions” remain.
Only at level 3 would there be a “gradual relaxing of restrictions and social distancing measures.”
And Boris Johnson said on May 10: “That Covid Alert Level will tell us how tough we have to be in our social distancing measures – the lower the level the fewer the measures.
The government has since changed its tune and made clear any changes to lockdown are not based on the alert level.
Instead, since early summer No10 has said any lockdown changes are based on the “five tests” for easing lockdown:
News – UK coronavirus alert level raised to 4 after infections soar