Business Secretary Alok Sharma has said the UK will soon be able to enter into ‘level three’ of lockdown.

Sharma’s announcement came at the daily press briefing on Sunday, May 17, where he said such a move was only possible due to the public adhering to the government's social distancing guidelines.

He thanked the public saying: “Throughout the period of lockdown we have been at level four. Thanks to you, people across the country, we have collectively helped to bring the R level down. We are now in a position to begin moving to level three, in careful steps.”

What is the five level alert system?

Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced the new five level alert system in a speech to the nation on Sunday, March 10.

He said the government’s colour-coded alert system will measure the threat from coronavirus in England, with varying levels of severity.

Mr Johnson explained that the “Covid Alert Level will be determined primarily by R and the number of coronavirus cases.

“And, in turn, that Covid Alert Level will tell us how tough we have to be in our social distancing measures – the lower the level the fewer the measures. The higher the level, the tougher and stricter we will have to be.

“There will be five alert levels. Level One means the disease is no longer present in the UK and Level Five is the most critical – the kind of situation we could have had if the NHS had been overwhelmed.”

Eventually the government plans for the levels in the colour-coded system to reflect the threat of Covid-19 in certain areas of the country, rather than the country as a whole, and this will then be used to inform local lockdown restrictions.

What are the five levels?

As defined by the Government’s Covid-19 recovery strategy document, released earlier this month, the five alert levels are:

  • Level 1: Covid-19 is not known to be present in the UK.
  • Level 2: Covid-19 is present in the 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 or rising exponentially.
  • Level 5: As level 4 and there is a material risk of healthcare services being overwhelmed.

What is the current level?

As of May 20, the UK is currently operating in level four of the alert system, the level it has been since March, and for the entirety of the UK lockdown.

What is level three of lockdown?

Level three of lockdown means the threat of Covid-19 in the country is “substantial”.

While this doesn't sound too positive, it means the virus’ threat to the country has decreased somewhat, from level four’s “severe” threat.

If the country moved to level three, as Sharma has predicted it will soon will, social distancing rules will begin to be relaxed.

Who determines the current level?

It is the Joint Biosecurity Centre (JBC) - an organisation ran by Tom Hurd, a counter-terrorism specialist - that will use testing to identify changes in infection rates, as well as environmental and workplace data, to advise chief medical officers.

However, it remains the government ministers job to decide whether to ease or tighten the lockdown restrictions based on this data.

Gradual easing of restrictions

While the country is currently in level four on the alert system, there has already been some gradual easing of lockdown restrictions, following the prime minister's speech on Sunday, May 10.

As of Wednesday, May 13, people in England were given the green light to return to work - but only if they could not work from home.

Additionally, people can now meet up with one other person, whom they do not live with, so long as they remain the recommended two metres apart.

Speaking about the eased restrictions, Sharma clarified there was to be no further changes until the government is completely ‘satisfied that it is safe to do so.’