Prime Minister Boris Johnson has unveiled a new Covid-19 alert system that will measure the level of risk from the pandemic and determine the UK’s lockdown exit strategy.
In a speech this evening Johnson said the Covid Alert Level will be determined primarily by the reproductive rate of the virus — known as R — and the number of coronavirus cases.
In turn, the alert level will be used to determine how strictly the government will enforce social distancing rules and how quickly the lockdown can be lifted.
The new system, which mirrors the UK’s terrorist threat level framework, consists of five alert levels, with level one marking a complete eradication of the disease and level five the most critical.
The prime minister said the UK had been at level four over the course of the lockdown, but was now moving into level three.
However, Johnson warned the plan was conditional, stating that the government would not move forward until it has satisfied its five key tests, including keeping the R rate below one.
The R rate is currently between 0.5 and 0.9, with Johnson warning it was “potentially only just below one”.
The prime minister urged the public to help keep the infection rate down by “staying alert and following the rules”.
But he said the UK must also reverse the “awful epidemics” in care homes in the NHS and develop a “world-beating” system for testing people and tracing their contacts.
The government has come under criticism for escalating Covid-19 deaths in care homes, as well as its failure to meet testing targets and a lack of personal protection equipment for healthcare workers.
Johnson said the aim was to test “literally hundreds of thousands of people every day”.
The government last week began trialling a contact-tracing app which — if successful — would help track the spread of the virus.
The prime minister said the new tracing system would allow authorities to detect local flare-ups of the virus, as well as developing a national picture.
“We will be monitoring our progress locally, regionally, and nationally and if there are outbreaks, if there are problems, we will not hesitate to put on the brakes,” he said.
“We have been through the initial peak – but it is coming down the mountain that is often more dangerous.”