Britain's Covid threat level should be reduced from four to three

Britain's Covid threat level should be reduced from four to three

June 19, 2020

UK coronavirus alert level is LOWERED from four to three: Ministers hail ‘big moment’ as health chiefs agree transmission is ‘no longer high’ – and will Boris Johnson now ease the two metre rule to save the economy?

  • UK’s coronavirus alert level being lowered from four to three after infections fell
  • Health chiefs have concluded transmission of the disease is ‘no longer high’ 
  • Move hailed by ministers as ‘big moment’ after nearly three months of lockdown 
  • Speculation that the decision could allow for the easing of two-metre rule soon 
  • Here’s how to help people impacted by Covid-19

The UK’s coronavirus threat level was today dramatically reduced from four to three – raising speculation that the government is about to shift on the two-metre rule.

After weeks in which the alert was maintained despite Boris Johnson starting to ease lockdown, the Joint Biosecurity Centre has concluded that transmission is no longer ‘high or rising exponentially’.

The move was announced jointly by the chief medical officers for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland – and it was hailed by Health Secretary Matt Hancock as a ‘big moment’ that showed the ‘government’s plan is working’.  

But it will heap pressure on the PM to relax the draconian social distancing curbs strangling the economy. Tories have been demanding the two-metre rule is loosened immediately, warning that schools and the hospitality sector cannot function while it remains. 

Figures out today showed UK debt is now bigger than the whole economy for the first time in 57 years, as GDP plunges and millions of people face unemployment.

In a joint statement, Professor Chris Whitty for England, Dr Michael McBride for Northern Ireland, Dr Gregor Smith for Scotland and Dr Chris Jones for Wales said: ‘The Joint Biosecurity Centre has recommended that the COVID-19 alert level should move from Level 4 (A COVID-19 epidemic is in general circulation; transmission is high or rising exponentially) to Level 3 (A COVID-19 epidemic is in general circulation).

The Joint Biosecurity Centre has recommended today that the Covid-19 alert level be reduced

The Covid Alert Levels system was announced by Boris Johnson in his televised address to the nation on May 10. 

The PM said he was establishing the JBC to run the alert system, which is similar to that used to establish the terrorist threat. 

It has five tiers from level one to five based on the spread of Covid-19 through the country. 

At level five, transmission is high or rising and there is a risk healthcare services will be overwhelmed. Level one means coronavirus is no longer known to be in the UK. 

Level three is when the epidemic is in general circulation and gradual easing of restrictions can take place, while level two is when the number of cases and transmission is low and ‘no or minimal’ restrictions are required. 

‘The CMOs for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have reviewed the evidence and agree with this recommendation to move to Level 3 across the UK.

‘There has been a steady decrease in cases we have seen in all four nations, and this continues. It does not mean that the pandemic is over. The virus is still in general circulation, and 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.’ 

The Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies last week confirmed the UK’s R rate was between 0.7 and 0.9 – although in some areas it might still be slightly higher. Anything below 1 means the prevalence of the virus is shrinking.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the lowering of the Covid-19 alert level was a ‘big moment’ for the UK, and showed the ‘Government’s plan is working’.

He said: ‘The UK moving to a lower alert level is a big moment for the country, and a real testament to the British people’s determination to beat this virus.

‘The Government’s plan is working. 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.’  

However, the Government is still facing doubts over its contact tracing system – which will be essential to stop the virus flaring up again and plunging the country into another devastating lockdown.

Mr Hancock was yesterday forced into an embarrassing U-turn over the NHS tracing app, admitting it had not worked and will be abandoned.

Instead, the government will follow countries such as Germany and focus on the version built by tech giants Apple and Google. 

The NHS software, originally promised for mid-May, was unable to spot 25 per cent of nearby Android users and a staggering 96 per cent of iPhones in a trial on the Isle of Wight.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock (pictured yesterday) said the lowering of the Covid-19 alert level is a ‘big moment’ for the UK, and showed the ‘Government’s plan is working’

UK debt is bigger than GDP for the first time in 57 YEARS at nearly £2trillion 

UK debt is bigger than GDP for the first time in 57 years as coronavirus wreaks havoc, it was revealed today.

Public sector debt was fractionally below two trillion pounds at the end of last month – equivalent to 100.9 per cent of GDP.

The grim milestone was reached after the government was forced to borrow £55.2billion over the month. That was nine time the figure for May last year, and the highest since records began in 1993.

The last time debt was bigger than the whole economy was 1963.  

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) data underlines the scale of the damage being inflicted on business and the public finances by lockdown.   

The government is now propping up 9.1million jobs through the furlough scheme, which together with the bailout for the self-employed is expected to cost more than £100billion.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak, who has been pushing in Cabinet for the two-metre social distancing rule to be eased, said evidence was growing of a ‘severe impact’ on the UK. ‘The best way to restore our public finances to a more sustainable footing is to safely reopen our economy so people can return to work,’ he said.

Meanwhile, the Apple and Google technology can spot 99 per cent of close contacts using any type of smartphone — but Mr Hancock said it cannot reliably tell how far away they are. 

At the Downing Street briefing last night the Cabinet minister appeared to point the finger at Apple, saying: ‘Our app won’t work because Apple won’t change their system’.

But an Apple source told The Times that it had not been informed of the announcement or consulted on the plan to work together. 

‘We don’t know what they mean by this hybrid model. They haven’t spoken to us about it,’ the source said. 

On the idea that its version was less accurate at measuring distance than the government’s NHSX model, the source said: ‘The app has been downloaded by six million in 24 hours in Germany, the Italians have had it going since Monday, the Dutch government and Irish government have it, and there has been no issue about proximity detection.’

MailOnline understands Apple was aware of the government’s concerns about the accuracy of the model, but the company pointed out that Germany has concluded it is ‘better than relying on people’s memories’. 

In a round of interviews this morning, schools minister Nick Gibb was unable to confirm whether a contract had been signed between the Government and Google and Apple to develop the contact-tracing app.

Asked if a deal to develop the app had been completed with the tech giants, the school standards minister told Sky News: ‘Well, that’s a matter for (Health Secretary Matt Hancock).

‘He’s working with Google and Apple, I don’t know the details of the contracts that they have.’

He added: ‘What I do know is that we are working with Google and Apple to iron out these problems with the system to make it robust and accurate in how it tracks and traces.’

The easing of lockdown measures in England at the beginning of June caused concern as the Covid-19 alert level remained at four – which the Government previously said would mean restrictions remaining in place. 

There was then confusion over whether the JBC was up and running, and what role it would play in setting the alert level. 

The Covid Alert Levels system was announced by Prime Minister Boris Johnson in his televised address to the nation on May 10. 

Public sector debt was fractionally below two trillion pounds at the end of last month – equivalent to 100.9 per cent of GDP

The government was forced to borrow £55.2billion in May, according to the ONS. That was nine time the figure for May last year, and the highest since records began in 1993

He said he was establishing the JBC to run the alert system, which is similar to that used to establish the terrorist threat. It has five tiers from level one to five based on the spread of Covid-19 through the country. 

At level five, transmission is high or rising and there is a risk healthcare services will be overwhelmed. Level one means coronavirus is no longer known to be in the UK. 

Level three is when the epidemic is in general circulation and gradual easing of restrictions can take place, while level two is when the number of cases and transmission is low and ‘no or minimal’ restrictions are required. 

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