Covid-19 alert levels: What does each one mean and what level is the UK currently at?

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The change to the alert levels in the UK is due to concerns over the Omnicron variant, but what do all the levels mean?

The COVID-19 alert level system is used to assess how the virus is circulating in society.

The most recent change to the level was made earlier this month, when the alert level was raised to four in response to concerns about the new Omicron variant.

How many levels are there and what are they?

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There are five alert levels in the system, numbered from one to five.

These levels are listed below.

Level 1: COVID-19 is not known to be present in the UK

Level 2: COVID-19 is present in UK, but the number of cases and transmission is low

Level 3: a COVID-19 epidemic is in general circulation

Level 4: a COVID-19 epidemic is in general circulation; transmission is high and pressure on healthcare services is widespread and substantial or rising

Level 5: as level 4 and there is a material risk of healthcare services being overwhelmed

How are the changes in levels decided?

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The level is changed when data indicators suggest an alteration is required.

A Government spokesperson said: “A range of indicators and thresholds are used to support the underpinning analysis for alert level recommendations.

“Though a recommendation to raise the alert level could, in extremis, be made based a single indicator alone, it is most likely to be made based on a combination of the indicators described for each threshold along with risk assessments.”

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For escalating from level three to four, the UK Government lists several indicators.

These are the justifications for the change.

The indicators are:

  • is the UK weekly case rate more than 250 per 100,000 population?
  • is the national R reliably estimated to be R>1?
  • is the doubling time of confirmed new infections less than 7 days?
  • are there more than 30,000 estimated new infections in the UK per day?
  • are COVID-19 related hospital admissions increasing at ≥25% over the same 7-day period?

When can the level be moved down again?

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For the alert level to move back down to level three, the indicators below must be met.

  • is the UK weekly case rate less than 125 per 100,000 population?
  • is the national R reliably estimated to be <1?
  • are there estimated to be less than 30,000 new infections per day?
  • have new daily COVID-19 confirmed infections been on a downward trend, or stable at a low level, for at least 4 weeks?
  • have COVID-19 related hospital admissions been on a downward trend, or stable at a low level, for at least 4 weeks?
  • has COVID-19 related hospital occupancy been on a downward trend, or stable at a low level, for at least 4 weeks?
  • have COVID-19 related HDU or ICU admissions been on a downward trend, or stable at a low level, for at least 4 weeks?
  • has COVID-19 related HDU or ICU occupancy been on a downward trend, or stable at a low level, for at least 4 weeks?
  • have new daily COVID-19 related deaths been on a downward trend, or stable at a low level, for at least 4 weeks?
  • is current direct COVID-19 absolute healthcare pressure sufficiently low to support de-escalation to level 4?

What would it take to be moved up to Alert Level Five?

There is a single holding indicator, with level 5 only recommended if that indicator is met:

  • has UKHSA, in consultation with NHS senior leadership and CMOs, estimated that forecasted healthcare demand will outmatch forecasted capacity across the UK, regions or devolved administrations within the next 21 days?

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