Coronavirus: Government alert level remains at four despite lockdown being eased in England

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Members of the public wearing protective face masks queue outside an Ikea store at Wembley in north-west London as it re-opens its doors following the easing of the lockdown restrictions during the novel coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic on June 1, 2020. - Some non-essential stores, car dealerships and outdoor markets in Britain on June 1 were able to reopen from their COVID-19 shutdown in an easing of coronavirus lockdown measures. (Photo by DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS / AFP) (Photo by DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP via Getty Images)
People queuing outside an Ikea store in Wembley, north London, on Monday, as lockdown was eased (AFP via Getty Images)

The government has announced that its coronavirus alert level remains at its second highest position despite lockdown being eased across England on Monday.

Last month, the government said the alert level would have to drop from its current level of four to three before restrictions could be reduced, but lockdown easing still began across England on Monday despite warnings from some of the government’s own science advisers that it was introduced too soon.

When the alert scheme was launched three weeks ago, England was at level four and has remained there ever since. This level means that COVID-19 transmission is high or rising exponentially.

Downing Street revealed that the chief medical officer for England, Professor Chris Whitty, and the newly-established Joint Biosecurity Centre discussed the level last week but did not alter it.

The government's coronavirus alert level chart (PA)
The government's coronavirus alert level chart appears to contradict Monday's easing of lockdown (PA)

The prime minister’s official spokesman said: “In terms of the changes I think we were always clear that we would need to be meeting our five tests and I believe that we are.”

Although the alert level has not been changed, the spokesman claimed it is “moving down from four to three”.

Public health experts have warned that the government is lifting the lockdown in England too soon, while a legal commentator said the new laws explaining the easing are “barely comprehensible”.

The easing of the lockdown appears to be at odds with one of the government’s previously published slides, which said “current social distancing measures and restrictions” should remain while the alert level is at four.

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But Downing Street claimed the scientific consensus is that it is "unlikely" that easing the lockdown in England will push the coronavirus transmission rate R past the crucial value of one.

The prime minister's official spokesman said: "We have worked to gradually and safely ease the lockdown measures, the consensus from the scientists is if test and trace is up and running and the public follow the social distancing guidance then it's unlikely the measures will push the R above one."

The COVID Alert Levels system was introduced by prime minister Boris Johnson in a televised address to the nation on 10 May.

Run by the Joint Biosecurity Centre, it has five tiers from one to five based on the spread of COVID-19.

It is mainly determined by the reproduction rate of the virus - the R rate or number of people who will contract coronavirus from an infected person, as well as the number of cases.

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