Video report by ITV News Political Correspondent Carl Dinnen
Boris Johnson has suggested some coronavirus restrictions could be lifted soon after mid-February, confirming the UK is "on target" to reach its goal of vaccinating the most vulnerable to Covid-19 by that date.
He said before the review point of February 15 ministers will "looking at the potential of relaxing some measures" - but nothing will change until after that date.
The prime minister was cautious when talking about a relaxation of the rules, refusing to put a timetable on the reopening of schools - which will be the priority when lockdown measures begin to lift.
When England's lockdown was announced, it was hoped schools could reopen following the February half-term if the top four groups most vulnerable groups had been vaccinated.
Mr Johnson, who was visiting a vaccination site at Barnet Football Club in north London, where around 13,000 jabs have been delivered since mid-December, said the UK is currently on track with "6.3/6.4 million people" having received their first dose.
Boris Johnson on the 'potential' for lifting restrictions after mid-February:
Asked whether schools would open after the February half-term the prime minister said: "We're looking at the data as it comes in, we're looking at the rates of infection, as you know the JCVI groups 1 to 4 are going to be vaccinated by February 15, but before then we'll be looking at the potential of relaxing some measures.
"But don't forget this country has made huge progress in reducing infection, I don't think people want to see another big surge in infection."
Downing Street pointed out that February 15 is a "review point" and while a lifting of restrictions would be discussed before then, no action would be taken until afterwards.
The PM's spokesman said: "It has always been our intention to ease restrictions where we can from that point on the 15th, and schools are obviously our top priority."
Pressed for a firm date on when schools would reopen, Mr Johnson said ministers are looking at data daily "and trying to work out when we're going to be able to lift restrictions.
"Schools obviously will be a priority but I don't think anybody would want to see the restrictions lifted so quickly while the rate of infection is still very high so as to lead to another great spread of infection."
Boris Johnson on whether schools will open before Easter:
He added: "We've now got the R down below 1 across the whole of the country, that's a great achievement, we don't want to see a huge surge of infection just when we've got the vaccination programme going so well and people working so hard.
"I understand why people want to get a timetable from me today, what I can tell you is we'll tell you, tell parents, tell teachers as much as we can as soon as we can."
He's under growing pressure from his own MPs to reopen schools in England when that target is reached, amid warnings children have become the “forgotten victims” of the Covid pandemic.
But he could not give a guarantee schools would be back before Easter.
"Believe me there's nothing I want to do more than reopen schools, I've fought to keep schools open for as long as I possibly could," he said.
Mr Johnson went on: "With this vaccination programme, we've done I think 6.3, 6.4 million people now in the UK as a whole.
"We are on target just, just, we're on target to hit our ambition of vaccinating everybody in those vulnerable groups by the middle of February."
On Friday it was revealed the R number of coronavirus in the UK had dropped below 1 for the first time in weeks, with the figure thought to be 0.8 to 1.0.
But the Department of Health and Social Care warned: "Cases remain dangerously high and we must remain vigilant to keep this virus under control, to protect the NHS and save lives.
"It is essential that everyone continues to stay at home, whether they have had the vaccine or not."
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