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Boris Johnson says some lockdown restrictions could be eased by mid-February

Boris Johnson has said there is “potential” for relaxation of some lockdown restrictions in England by mid-February, but refused to put a date on the reopening of schools.

The prime minister is coming under intense pressure to get children back into classrooms after health secretary Matt Hancock failed to rule out the possibility that they will remain closed until the Easter holidays.

Speaking during a visit to a coronavirus vaccination site in north London on Monday, Mr Johnson said he understood the “frustration” of parents and pupils.

But he added: “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.

“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.”

However, Mr Johnson said that people “mustn’t assume” that schools will now remain closed until Easter, insisting that the government was constantly looking at infection data and wanted to reopen schools as soon as possible.

The prime minister said the government will be “looking at the potential of relaxing some measures” at the scheduled 15 February date for a review of the England-wide lockdown 

“I totally understand the frustrations of parents, I really thank teachers for what they’re doing, the immense efforts they’re going to to teach kids online, and the Government has provided a lot of laptops… I know that’s no substitute for direct face-to-face learning.

“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.

“We want to see schools back as fast as possible, we want to do that in a way that is consistent with fighting the epidemic and keeping the infection rate down.”

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson is widely expected to confirm this week that there will be no return to the classroom after the February half-term break as ministers had hoped.

Ministers believe that infection rates and pressure on the NHS need to come down further before the move can be considered, with no guarantee that classes will resume before Easter.

But the chair of the Commons Education Committee today suggested that restrictions on other social and economic activities could be tightened in order to allow schools to reopen safely.

Robert Halfon told the BBC: “It may be that one thing the government should consider is that even if there are tighter restrictions in other parts of our society and economy, you have those restrictions in order to enable the schools to open.

“The Government said that the intention was to open the schools again after the February half-term – over the weekend in the newspapers it was indicated that the schools now won’t open until Easter, so that’s why I’m urging clarity for parents, children, teachers and support staff as to what the Government plans are because there’s enormous uncertainty.”

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that two or three weeks after the four priority groups have been vaccinated – due mid-February – lockdown measures should start being lifted.

The latest Government figures showed more than 6.3 million people across the UK have received their first dose of the vaccine – with a record-breaking 491,970 being injected in a single day over the weekend.

Based on the latest figures, an average of 393,031 first doses of vaccine would be needed each day in order to meet the Government’s target of vaccinating the top four priority groups – including all over-70s – by mid-February.

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