Covid: ‘Unlikely’ all restrictions will lift by end of April – Raab

Video report by ITV News Political Correspondent Dan Hewitt

It is “unlikely” all Covid restrictions will lift by the end of April, Dominic Raab has said, as he refused to be drawn on whether all schools will reopen on March 8.

The Foreign Secretary said he could not make “cast iron guarantees” what restrictions would lift at this stage, as he said lockdown easing would be “evidence led”, he told ITV News.

His comments come after lockdown-sceptic MPs wrote to Boris Johnson demanding the PM commits to a strict timetable for ending controls in England and called for all restriction to be lifted by the end of April.

They said schools “must” return by March 8 as planned with pubs and restaurants reopening from Easter.

But Mr Raab said: “I don’t think you can set up a target in advance, we are constantly assessing the data and the evidence that we get on the vaccine’s impact on the virus, we need to be evidence led… I don’t think you can say, with cast iron guarantees at this stage, what we’ll be able to in several months time.”

He added: “What we don’t want to do is unwind and unravel the gains we have made, particularly the gains we’ve made with the vaccine so well be in a better position to say what’s happening in a week’s time.”

Mr Raab said they were still aiming to start reopening schools on March 8 – although he would not be drawn on whether they would all be able go back at the same time.

He said “the aspiration is to get all schools open as soon as possible”, but will be judged based on data and set out on February 22, when the PM outlines his roadmap out of lockdown.

Dan Hewitt breaks down the view from Westminster

His caution comes after the PM spoke about his optimism on easing the lockdown restrictions in England and hinted at which sectors may reopen first.

However Mr Johnson said ministers would have to look at the data “very, very hard” before taking any decisions as they did not want to be forced into a “reverse ferret” if the disease started to spread again.

Mr Raab indicated that allowing people to socialise outdoors and the reopening of non-essential shops would also be early priorities as controls eased, followed by hospitality.

But he said it was “important not to jump the gun” as schools were the priority.

(PA Graphics) Credit: PA Graphics

He said the government was continuing to remain vigilant against new Covid variants – he said fewer than 200 cases of the South African variant are currently in the UK.

However Public Health England confirmed the figure is in fact 202.

In a letter to the PM, the leaders of the Covid Recovery Group (CRG) said the “tremendous pace” of the vaccination rollout meant restrictions in England should begin easing from early March.

They said ministers must produce a cost-benefit analysis to justify any controls that remain in place after that date, with a “road-map” stating when they would be removed.

The letter was organised by the CRG chair and deputy chair, Mark Harper and Steve Baker, and was said to have the backing of 63 Conservative MPs in all.

Mr Harper told ITV News: "The justification for these tough restrictions really falls away, the argument has always been, saved lives, and protect the NHS, but once you've vaccinated those groups, the saving the lives and the protecting the NHS is being delivered by vaccination, not by these draconian restrictions on the population."

It points out that by March 8 the Government’s top four priority groups -which account for 88% of deaths and 55% of hospitalisations – will have had their first dose of the vaccine at least three weeks earlier allowing time for protection to kick in.

“All restrictions remaining after March 8 should be proportionate to the ever-increasing number of people we have protected,” it says.