'One way from now on': Boris Johnson pledges 'irreversible' steps out of Covid lockdown as he looks to ease restrictions

Video report from ITV News politics correspondent Libby Wiener

Boris Johnson has pledged the UK will not be put back into a full lockdown after a gradual easing of coronavirus restrictions begins in what is expected to be just a few weeks' time.

The prime minister said any lifting of restrictions will be based on a "cautious and prudent approach", with schools set to be the first to reopen, with a return for some pupils expected from March 8.

Mr Johnson, speaking to reporters at a mass vaccination centre in Cwmbran, south Wales, said easing England's restrictions would be done in "stages" as he hinted that hospitality would again be the last to reopen.

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The prime minister, his Cabinet and advisers will this week assess data from England's third lockdown, before setting out on February 22 their plan to gradually lift restrictions.

Asked about Professor Dame Angela McLean's comments to the Science and Technology Committee that any unlocking should be based on "data, not dates", Mr Johnson said: "That's absolutely right."

"That's why we'll be setting out what we can on Monday about the way ahead and it'll be based firmly on a cautious and prudent approach to coming out of lockdown in such a way to be irreversible.

"We want to be going one way from now on, based on the incredible vaccination rollout that you're seeing in Cwmbran."

Decisions for lifting restrictions will be based on Covid-19 case numbers, hospital admissions, deaths and the impact of the vaccine rollout.

The PM said easing England's restrictions would be done in "stages" as he highlighted the need to "go cautiously".

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Labour agrees with the PM that the current lockdown should be the last, with Shadow Health Secretary Jon Ashworth saying Mr Johnson is "correct" to say decisions will be based on data not dates.

He called on the government to "lock in" the success of vaccination by "doing more to break transmission chains".

He said that means "fixing sick pay for people, looking at mask wearing for people, looking at ventilation, air-filtration systems in public buildings".

"Yes, we have to be driven by the data," he said, "but we have to be cautious because this has got to be the final lockdown."

Mr Johnson urged the public to be patient ahead of him revealing his planned route out of lockdown when asked how low cases would need to fall before the hospitality sector could be reopened.

"I would just advise everybody just wait, we'll try and say as much as we can on that," he said.

He's previously said he hopes to give dates for the point at which each restrictions will lift, but warned they will be subject to delays.

The PM has been warned, in a letter from a top NHS boss, that coronavirus cases in England must drop by at least 645,000 before lockdown restrictions can ease.

Chris Hopson, chief executive of the NHS Providers organisation, said the number of cases, which is currently estimated by the Office for National Statistics to be 695,400, needs to drop to around 50,000 before a lifting of any measures can be considered.

Mr Johnson has in the past hinted he's likely to take a national approach to lifting restrictions, rather than regional adjustments.

On Wednesday First Minister Nicola Sturgeon confirmed Scotland's youngest pupils would go back to school as planned from Monday, but she warned lockdown there could possibly go on a little "longer" than originally hoped.

Some schools in Wales will also reopen on Monday, but in England and Northern Ireland most classrooms will remain empty until at least March 8.

Mr Johnson said the UK government would continue to have conversations with devolved administrations about how best to exit lockdown.

Boris Johnson on whether there will be a UK-wide approach to easing lockdown:

Asked whether the four UK nations should ease their restrictions in unison, the Prime Minister said: "We have continuous conversations with Mark Drakeford, with other representatives of devolved administrations, about how to do it, just as we work on the vaccination programme together.

"We try and make sure we concert our approach and our general messages."