Coronavirus: How will the Covid-19 alert system work?

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Young woman wearing a face mask with the words "stayin' alert" on itImage copyright
PA Media

The government has announced plans to measure the threat from Covid-19 in England, with a new five-level, colour-coded alert system.

What is it for?

The prime minister says it will help the government decide how tough social-distancing measures should be:

  • Level five (red) – a “material risk of healthcare services being overwhelmed” – extremely strict social distancing
  • Level four – a high or rising level of transmission – enforced social distancing
  • Level three – the virus is in general circulation – social distancing relaxed
  • Level two – the number of cases and transmission are low – minimal social distancing
  • Level one (green) – Covid-19 is no longer be present in the UK – no social distancing

What determines the level?

  • Covid-19’s reproduction (R) number, a scientific measure of how fast the virus is spreading
  • The number of confirmed coronavirus cases at any one time

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PA Media/Downing Street Pool

In time, the government hopes, the level will reflect the threat in specific areas of England and be used to determine local restrictions.

What is the current level?

England’s Chief Medical Officer, Prof Chris Whitty, says the UK’s current position is best described as level four – the virus is still being transmitted widely and many social-distancing measures will not be relaxed.

Who sets the level?

A Joint Biosecurity Centre (JBC) – run by counter-terrorism specialist Tom Hurd, on similar lines to the Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre (JTAC) – will identify changes in infection rates, using testing, environmental and workplace data, and advise chief medical officers.

But government ministers will make the final decision on easing or tightening restrictions.

What about the other UK nations?

The government says it will engage with the devolved administrations in Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast, as they develop their own versions – and explore how the JBC can operate as part of a broader infrastructure to address all the UK’s biosecurity threats.

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