Covid: Boris Johnson delays reopening of schools in England until at least March 8

Video report by ITV News Midlands Reporter Ben Chapman

Boris Johnson has announced a delay to the reopening of schools in England until at least Monday, March 8.

The prime minister had planned to reopen schools after the February half term, but high infection rates and uncertainty over the vaccine's ability to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, mean the date has been pushed back.

He told MPs reopening schools was a "national priority" and that other lockdown restrictions may be eased by February 22 if the government hits its target of vaccinating the top four priority groups by the middle of next month.

But with reopening schools the government's top priority, it seems unlikely that other lockdown restrictions will be eased before classes return.

Mr Johnson told the Commons: "The first sign of normality beginning to return should be pupils going back to their classrooms. I know how parents and teachers need as much certainty as possible including two weeks' notice of the return of face-to-face teaching.

"So I must inform the House that for the reasons I have outlined it will not be possible to reopen schools immediately after the February half-term. But I know how frustrating that will be for pupils and teachers who want nothing more than to get back to the classroom.

"And for parents and for carers who spent so many months juggling their day jobs, not only with home schooling but meeting the myriad other demands of their children from breakfast until bedtime."

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He added: "Schools closures have had a profound impact on learning which will take more than a year to catch-up, so we will work with teachers and parents to develop a long term plan to make up their learning over the course of this parliament."

By mid-February much more will be known about the effect of vaccines in preventing hospital admissions and deaths, he said, and that a "plan for taking the country out of lockdown" will be published in the week commencing February 22 .

He said: "If we achieve our target of vaccinating everyone in the four most vulnerable groups with their first dose by February 15, and every passing day sees more progress towards that goal, then those groups (will) have developed immunity from the virus about three-weeks later, that is by March 8.

"We hope it will therefore be safe to begin the reopening of schools from Monday, March 8.

"With other economic and social restrictions being removed thereafter as and when the data permits... then or thereafter I should say."

"That plan will, of course, depend on the continued success of our vaccination programme, the capacity of the NHS, and on deaths falling at the pace we would expect as more people are inoculated," Mr Johnson added.

Schools in Scotland are preparing to reopen next month, while schools in Wales and Northern Ireland are still scheduled to reopen after the February half term.

Earlier on Wednesday, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer urged Mr Johnson to vaccinate all teachers and school staff to ensure the safe reopening of schools at the earliest possible date.

Speaking at PMQs, Sir Keir said: "The prime minister is going to have answer that question one day, and he should have the decency to answer it today. "

Schools have been closed since the Christmas holidays, except for the children of key workers and vulnerable pupils.

During his address to MPs, Mr Johnson announced the UK would be imposing hotel quarantine for arrivals into the UK from "red list" countries - those deemed to be high-risk Covid nations.

The new law is designed to improve compliance with self-isolation rules in order to reduce the risk of new variants of coronavirus being brought to the UK.

The PM said Home Secretary Priti Patel will provide further detail on the new policy later today.

Mr Johnson pointed out that foreign nationals from 22 countries where new variants have been identified - including South Africa, Portugal and South American nations - are not allowed entry to the UK.

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