UK coronavirus alert level raised from 3 to 4

21 September 2020, 17:21 | Updated: 22 September 2020, 14:46

By Ewan Somerville

The UK's chief medical officers have moved the coronavirus alert level from 3 to 4 in the first ramping up of the threat marker since June.

The Joint Biosecurity Centre recommended the change on Monday afternoon, meaning transmission of the virus is “high or rising exponentially”.

It comes after the Government’s chief scientific adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance, warned the UK could see 50,000 new Covid-19 cases a day and “200-plus deaths per day” by mid-November without further restrictions. 

The four chief medical officers said in a statement: “After a period of lower Covid cases and deaths, the number of cases are now rising rapidly and probably exponentially in significant parts of all four nations.

"If we are to avoid significant excess deaths and exceptional pressure in the NHS and other health services over the autumn and winter everyone has to follow the social distancing guidance, wear face coverings correctly and wash their hands regularly.

"We know this will be a concerning news for many people; please follow the rules, look after each other and together we will get through this.”

The Covid-19 alert level operates on a scale of one to five - with five being the most severe scenario where the rate of reproduction for the virus, or R number, is significantly above one.

Read more: UK could see 50,000 cases and 200 deaths per day in mid-November

Read more: Grandparents allowed to care for under-14s in household mixing exemption

Prime Minister Boris Johnson is chairing a Cobra meeting on Tuesday to discuss further national restrictions as a second wave of the virus begins to grip the UK. He will then make a Commons statement.

On Monday, a further 4,368 daily cases were recorded in the UK - up from 3,899 in the previous 24 hours.

Another 11 deaths within 28 days of a positive test were also reported by health authorities, but this figure tends to be lower after weekends.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: “The raising of the alert level announced by the UK CMOs reflects the significant shift in the current threat posed by coronavirus.

“This country now faces a tipping point in its response and it is vital everybody plays their part now to stop the spread of the virus and protect lives.

“The first line of defence has always been all of us playing our part, remembering hands, face and space, the rule of six and self-isolation of those who risk passing on the virus.”

Sir Patrick said the “vast majority of the population remain susceptible” to catching coronavirus and the current situation required swift action to bring the case numbers down.

During a Downing Street briefing on Monday, he insisted the figures were not a prediction, but warned: "At the moment we think the epidemic is doubling roughly every seven days.

"If, and that's quite a big if, but if that continues unabated, and this grows, doubling every seven days... it would be 10,000 next week, 20,000 the week after, 40,000 the week after, and you can see that by mid-October, if that continued, you would end up with something like 50,000 cases in the middle of October, per day.

"Fifty-thousand cases per day would be expected to lead a month later, so the middle of November say, to 200-plus deaths per day."

Professor Chris Whitty, England's chief medical officer, hinted that curbs to social lives were needed to prevent coronavirus spiralling out of control, saying there was a need to “break unnecessary links” between households and a need to “change course”.

He warned the UK has "turned a corner" in the wrong direction.