The UK’s Covid alert level should move from five – its highest – down to four as the risk of the NHS being overwhelmed within 21 days “has receded”, the country’s four chief medical officers have said.
“The health services across the four nations remain under significant pressure with a high number of patients in hospital,” they said on Thursday.
“However thanks to the efforts of public we are now seeing numbers consistently declining, and the threat of the NHS and other health services being overwhelmed within 21 days has receded.”
The decision was made by Chris Whitty, England’s chief medical officer, Gregor Smith, Scotland’s chief medical officer, Frank Atherton, Wales’ chief medical officer and Michael McBride, Northern Ireland’s chief medical officer.
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.
“For the time being it is really important that we all — vaccinated or not - remain vigilant and continue to follow the guidelines.”
“We know how difficult the situation has been and remains to be for healthcare workers, we thank them for their immense effort, skill and professionalism throughout the pandemic.”
The alert level was raised to level five on January 4, the day Boris Johnson announced the third national lockdown for England.
Johnson said on Thursday he will stick to his timetable for lifting coronavirus restrictions, pledging to remain “cautious” in easing the lockdown.
Earlier this week he set out a plan for incrementally reducing measures over the coming months in England, with the aim of scrapping all restrictions by June.
On a visit to Accrington Academy in Lancashire on Thursday, Johnson said the dates he set out continued to be the target “towards which people can work” given that the number of people in hospital with Covid remained “high”.
According to Government data, there are 16,800 people in UK hospitals being treated for coronavirus symptoms.
Johnson made the comments when asked whether there was “wiggle room” to lift lockdown quicker if emerging data suggested infections and hospital admissions were falling faster than predicted as vaccines were rolled out.
He said: “I think it’s very important to have a timetable that is sensible, that is cautious, but one that is also irreversible. And that’s the virtue of the timetable we have set out.
“Everybody knows the dates: March 8, kids back in school; April 12, shops reopen; May 17, hospitality reopens; June 21, we hope, if all things go according to plan, a general reopening.
“And I think those are a series of dates towards which people can work, and I think that the people of this country would rather trade some haste for some certainty, and that’s why we’ve done it in the way that we have and we will still continue to stick to that plan.”
This article originally appeared on HuffPost UK and has been updated.