The UK’s coronavirus alert level has been reduced – as two rare types of Omicron have been reclassified as variants of concern.
The level has been moved down from four to three following advice from the four nations’ chief medical officers and the NHS England medical director.
They said in a statement: “The current BA.2 driven Omicron wave is subsiding. Direct COVID-19 healthcare pressures continue to decrease in all nations and ONS community positivity estimates continue to decrease.
“We would like to thank healthcare staff for their remarkable efforts during a challenging time.
“Whilst it is reasonable to expect the number of cases to increase due to BA.4, BA.5 or BA2.12.1, it is unlikely in the immediate future to lead to significant direct COVID pressures. This will continue to be kept under review.”
Read more: The UK’s COVID alert level explained
BA.4 and BA.5 have been reclassified as variants of concern and they are likely to have a growth advantage over the dominant BA.2 type, according to the UK Health Security Agency.
Initial findings suggest they may also have a degree of “immune escape”, meaning the body may no longer be able to recognise or fight the virus.
However, experts say there’s no indication so far that they are associated with new symptoms or more severe disease.
Only 115 probable or confirmed BA.4 cases have been identified in the UK as of 20 May.
There are 67 in England, 41 in Scotland, six in Wales and one in Northern Ireland.
Some 80 cases of BA.5 have been identified, including 48 in England, 25 in Scotland, six in Northern Ireland and one in Wales.
The reclassification of BA.4 and BA.5 as variants of concern comes after UK experts recommended an autumn COVID booster jab for some people.