THE UK's coronavirus alert level has been downgraded from level four to level three, it has been confirmed.

The virus is now considered to be in "general circulation" under the government's Covid-19 alert system.

It also means the government can begin to gradually ease some of the social distancing measures that have been put in place.

On Tuesday, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the lowering of the Covid-19 alert level is a "big moment" for the UK, and showed the "Government's plan is working".

He said: "The UK moving to a lower alert level is a big moment for the country, and a real testament to the British people's determination to beat this virus.

"The Government's plan is working. Infection rates are rapidly falling, we have protected the NHS and, thanks to the hard work of millions in our health and social care services, we are getting the country back on her feet."

How does it work?

The Northern Echo: Picture: UK GOVERNMENTPicture: UK GOVERNMENT

Under the Covid-19 alert system, level three means certain social distancing measures can begin to be relaxed. 

It also means that the virus is considered to be in general circulation - previously the risk of transmission had been considered to be 'high or rising exponentially.'

It is understood Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been considering reducing social distancing measures from 2m to 1m in a bid to allow certain businesses reopen.

The Northern Echo:

The 1m social distancing rule is already observed in countries including France, Denmark and Singapore.

The government have said such a move in England would allow primary and secondary schools to further open, while others say it will allow pubs and restaurants to resume trading in the next few weeks.

Is it safe?

But the UK's chief medical officers have warned the pandemic is not over and localised outbreaks could still occur.

In a joint statement, they said: "The Joint Biosecurity Centre has recommended that the Covid-19 alert level should move from Level 4 (A Covid-19 epidemic is in general circulation; transmission is high or rising exponentially) to Level 3 (A Covid-19 epidemic is in general circulation).

"The CMOs for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have reviewed the evidence and agree with this recommendation to move to Level 3 across the UK.

"There has been a steady decrease in cases we have seen in all four nations, and this continues.

"It does not mean that the pandemic is over. The virus is still in general circulation, and localised outbreaks are likely to occur.

"We have made progress against the virus thanks to the efforts of the public and we need the public to continue to follow the guidelines carefully to ensure this progress continues."