Video report by ITV News Political Correspondent Carl Dinnen
Boris Johnson has said he hopes to reveal out dates for relaxing England's Covid-19 restrictions when he reveals the route out of lockdown in a week's time, with any easements set to be "cautious but irreversible".
The prime minister said if he "possibly can" he will reveal dates for unlocking each aspect of society next Monday, following a review of coronavirus data this week after the UK reached its first vaccine target of inoculating the 15 million people most vulnerable to Covid-19 by February 15.
It is hoped schools will reopen on March 8, though Mr Johnson said "no decisions" had been taken on how that will work ahead of his "roadmap" being revealed on February 22.
"If we possibly can, we will be setting out dates," the PM said during a visit to Orpington Health and Wellbeing Centre in south-east London.
He further signalled taking a cautious approach by warning that there is an increased chance of new and concerning variants emerging if infections remain high.
"When you have a large level of circulation, when you've got a lot of disease, invariably the vulnerable suffer so that's why we want to drive it right down, keep it right down," he said.
He said if any dates are revealed, they will be based on the best case scenario, and any unwelcome developments in the UK's battle with coronavirus could mean they are pushed back.
Boris Johnson on the roadmap out of lockdown:
"So it's the target date by which we hope to do something at the earliest," he said, adding: "If, because of the rate of infection, we have to push something off a little bit to the right, to lay it for a little bit, we won't hesitate to do that.
"I think people would much rather see a plan that was cautious but irreversible and one that proceeds sensibly in accordance with where we are with the disease."
Asked whether all schools will reopen at the same time, or whether it will be staggered, the PM said: "No decisions have been taken on that sort of detail yet, though clearly schools on March 8 has for a long time been a priority of the government and of families up and down the country."
He added: "We've got to be very prudent and what we wanted to see is progress that is cautious but irreversible and I think that's what the public and people up and down the country will want to see."
PM on the reopening of schools:
Mr Johnson also ruled out introducing so-called vaccine passports for activities like going to the pub, though he acknowledged some countries may require proof of a vaccine before tourists are allowed to enter.
He said: "I think inevitably there will be great interest in ideas like can you show that you had a vaccination against Covid in the way that you sometimes have to show you have had a vaccination against Yellow Fever or other diseases in order to travel somewhere.
"I think that is going to be very much in the mix down the road, I think that is going to happen.
"What I don't think we will have in this country is - as it were - vaccination passports to allow you to go to, say, the pub or something like that.
"I think that that would be going it a bit."
Johnson on vaccine passports:
Health Secretary Matt Hancock revealed very little when asked whether some restrictions would be lifted now the first vaccine target had been reached.
He told ITV News "the vaccine is the route out of this pandemic", adding: "The PM will set out the timing of the roadmap and the sorts of decisions we're able to make to release lockdown, we'll set that next Monday.
"The work we'll be doing this week is to make the judgements about what we can do to exit lockdown safely, yet quickly.
"That is the difficult balance, we want a sustainable exit so we don't have to go back into lockdown."
Over the weekend, more than 60 CRG members signed a letter calling for Mr Johnson to commit to a firm timetable ending with the lifting of all legal controls by the end of April.
But Health Secretary Hancock said there is "some way to go" before lockdown is eased, stressing that the Government is awaiting key data on how successfully vaccines reduce transmission.
Scientists have warned that lessons must be learned from the “mistakes” made previously in relaxing lockdown measures too fast.Professor Neil Ferguson, who advises the Government as part of the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (Nervtag), warned that more information is needed about how effective vaccines are going to be.
He told Good Morning Britain: “We have results from scientific studies, clinical trials, but the real world is a different thing and so, again as the Government has said, we need to see how much protection vaccinated people have, how quickly death rates come down before we can be completely confident about going that next step and really reopening.”
The scientist said he feels it is “quite likely” that all schools in England will reopen on March 8 but said there will then need to be two or three weeks to look at how that affects case numbers.
He said: “The modelling we and other groups and universities in the UK have been doing would suggest there probably is leeway to reopen all schools.
“But of course that poses slightly more of a risk than just, for instance, reopening primary schools.”
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