The UK’s Covid-19 alert level has been lowered as the country’s top medics said the threat of the NHS being overwhelmed has receded.
The Level 5 alert was announced on January 4 as lockdown measures were introduced amid fears the health service could be swamped.
The decision to reduce the alert to Level 4 has now been made by the UK’s four chief medical officers because the number of cases in hospital are “consistently declining”.
Scotland’s Dr Gregor Smith, England’s Professor Chris Whitty, Northern Ireland’s Dr Michael McBride, Wales’s Dr Frank Atherton, along with NHS England’s Professor Stephen Powis, announced the decision on Thursday following advice from the Joint Biosecurity Centre.
They said health services across the four nations “remain under significant pressure with a high number of patients in hospital”, but thanks to the efforts of the public numbers are now “consistently declining, and the threat of the NHS and other health services being overwhelmed within 21 days has receded”.
They added: “We should be under no illusions – transmission rates, hospital pressures and deaths are still very high.
“In time, the vaccines will have a major impact and we encourage everyone to get vaccinated when they receive the offer.
“However for the time being it is really important that we all – vaccinated or not – remain vigilant and continue to follow the guidelines.”
The alert level move comes as First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced more than 1.5 million Scots have been given their first coronavirus vaccination.
Speaking at the Scottish Parliament on Thursday, she said 1,515,980 people had now received their first dose of the vaccine, an increase of 27,903 in the last 24 hours.
Almost one third of the adult population in Scotland have now been given their first coronavirus vaccine, which Sturgeon called “an important milestone”.