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The four UK Chief Medical Officers (CMOs) have recommended that the UK COVID-19 alert level moves from level 4 to level 5 after a significant increase in confirmed cases.

The CMOs – Chief Medical Officer for England Professor Chris Whitty, Chief Medical Officer for Wales Dr Frank Atherton, Chief Medical Officer for Scotland Dr Gregor Smith, and Chief Medical Officer for Northern Ireland Dr Michael McBride – say the NHS is just a few weeks from being overwhelmed in certain parts of the UK.

COVID-19 alert level 5 means that the COVID-19 epidemic is in general circulation, transmission is high or rising exponentially and there is a material risk of healthcare services being overwhelmed.

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This warning comes after the UK has experienced a drastic rise in confirmed cases and deaths.

The UK Government’s official coronavirus statistics show that in the last week alone, there have been over 400,000 people that have tested positive for COVID-19, representing a 33.8 percent increase from the previous seven days. Furthermore, in the last week, there have almost been 5,000 confirmed coronavirus deaths in the UK, which is a 28.9 percent increase on the previous seven days.

These worrying statistics mean that there are very high rates of transmission of COVID-19 throughout the UK, leaving hospitals under immense pressure, the UK CMOs have warned.

In a statement about the recommendation for the UK to move to COVID-19 alert level 5, the CMOs said: “Following advice from the Joint Biosecurity Centre and in the light of the most recent data, the 4 UK Chief Medical Officers and NHS England Medical Director recommend that the UK alert level should move from level 4 to level 5.

“Many parts of the health systems in the 4 nations are already under immense pressure. There are currently very high rates of community transmission, with substantial numbers of COVID patients in hospitals and in intensive care.”

The high transmission rate has also prompted the fourth nationwide lockdown England, which is expected to last until mid-February, providing coronavirus cases decrease in that time.

“Cases are rising almost everywhere, in much of the country driven by the new more transmissible variant,” the CMOs continued. “We are not confident that the NHS can handle a further sustained rise in cases and without further action there is a material risk of the NHS in several areas being overwhelmed over the next 21 days.

“Although the NHS is under immense pressure, significant changes have been made so people can still receive lifesaving treatment. It is absolutely critical that people still come forward for emergency care. If you require non-urgent medical attention, please contact your GP or call NHS 111.”

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