Covid alert level lowered as cases and infection rates continue to fall

Ipswich town centre on a busy day Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

The UK's Covid alert level has dropped from five to four - Credit: Archant

The UK's Covid-19 alert level has moved down a stage as health chiefs have deemed the risk of the NHS being overwhelmed "has receded".

A fall in coronavirus cases over the last few weeks has seen the alert level dropped from five to four, suggesting the virus is still in general circulation and infection rates remain high.

At level five, the virus is circulating to the point where there is a "material risk" of health services being overwhelmed.

The alert level was dropped following discussions between the chief medical officers of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

It had been raised to level five on January 4, the day prime minister Boris Johnson announced the third national lockdown for England.

In a joint statement, the four chief medical officers and NHS England's national medical director Stephen Powis said the numbers of patients in hospital was "consistently declining" but warned "we should be under no illusions" because deaths and infections are still high.

National medical director at NHS England Stephen Powis said there are signs the rates of new coronav

Stephen Powis, NHS England's national medical director - Credit: PA

The statement 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 five to level four in all four nations.

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"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."