Chris Whitty blocked Boris Johnson from downgrading the coronavirus alert level

Boris Johnson with Chris Whitty, (centre) and Sir Patrick Vallance

Prime Minister Boris Johnson arrives for a press conference with Chief Medical Officer for England Chris Whitty, (centre), and Chief Scientific Adviser Sir Patrick Vallance - Credit: PA

Boris Johnson's attempts to downgrade the coronavirus alert level was blocked by England's chief medical officer Chris Whitty.

The prime minister wanted to announce the five-stage alert level was being reduced from four to three as new measures were introduced as a partial relaxation of the lockdown.

On May 11 the PM had said that a relaxation of social-distancing measures 'must be warranted by the alert level'.

But The Times reports Johnson could only claim that the level was 'moving towards 3' and spoke about 'transitioning' after Whitty insisted it remains at the second-highest level.

It has raised questions about the system after Downing Street were unable to explain the criteria after measures were relaxed without the level moving.

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The prime minister's official spokesman said that Whitty and the Joint Biosecurity Centre (JBC) - the body tasked with assessing the Covid-19 alert level - had worked with Johnson before the announcement.

'In terms of the changes I think we were always clear that we would need to be meeting our five tests and I believe that we are.

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'In terms of the alert level it's moving down from four to three. We've obviously been in the process of setting up the new centre and making it fully operational, and I think we're only now getting to that point.'

But an official told the newspaper it appeared the government was 'wrecking' the centre's credibility with its announcements.

'The JBC, like JTAC (Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre), is designed to remove critical national security decision-making from the political arena. JBC's value and credibility has fallen at the first hurdle.'

Asked if they had gone against Whitty's judgment, Johnson's spokesman said: 'I don't accept that. With the decisions in terms of the easements we made yesterday, I'll stress again how cautious they were, and how we're moving forwards at a very gradual rate. Secondly, they were based upon us meeting the five tests, and that is what we are currently doing.'

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