Coronavirus: What the UK's five 'COVID alert levels' mean

May 28, 2020

Boris Johnson is expected to lower the "COVID alert level" facing the UK based on the system he says will guide the relaxation of lockdown restrictions.

The system - unveiled by the prime minister earlier in May - involves a scale of one to five, which he said would reflect the degree of threat to the country from coronavirus.

With the UK's current level at 4, Mr Johnson explained it is determined by the reproduction rate of COVID-19 (R) - which is the average number of people each infected person transmits the virus to - and the number of cases.

But what are each of the alert levels supposed to mean - and what action will taken as a result?

Level 5 - The highest on the scale, this indicates there is a "material risk" of the NHS being overwhelmed. Reaching this level would involve tighter social-distancing measures than have been imposed to date in the UK.

Level 4 - The level at which the UK has been since the system was announced. This means the COVID-19 epidemic "is in general circulation" and the "transmission is high or rising exponentially". Social-distancing regulations in force since March will remain unchanged as long as this is considered to be the case.

Level 3 - While this level also suggests the epidemic is "in general circulation", it omits the statement "transmission is high or rising exponentially". In lowering the alert level to this point, official guidelines suggest the government will begin the "gradual relaxing of restrictions and social-distancing measures".

Level 2 - To shift to this level, the government guidance says the virus would be present in the UK, but that the number of cases and transmission is low. It says this would then allow "no or minimal social-distancing measures", but with enhanced "testing, tracing, monitoring and screening".

Level 1 - The level which the government eventually hopes to reach, this would indicate "COVID-19 is not known to be present in the UK". The guidance suggests the only action required at this stage would be "routine international monitoring".

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Quarantine and social-distancing measures will be relaxed or tightened depending on where the UK is on the scale.

It uses a colour-coded 'traffic light' system similar to those employed by a series of governments to monitor specific threats facing the country, such as terrorism.

The announcement of the system came less than month after Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove denied it was true the government was considering a "traffic light" strategy to come out of lockdown, telling Sky's Sophy Ridge on Sunday: "No, it is not."

Next week from Monday to Thursday, Dermot Murnaghan will be hosting After the Pandemic: Our New World - a series of special live programmes about what our world will be like once the pandemic is over.

We'll be joined by some of the biggest names from the worlds of culture, politics, economics, science and technology. And you can take part too. If you'd like to be in our virtual audience - from your own home - and put questions to the experts, email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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