Watch: PM announces lockdown restrictions to stay in place until 8 March at earliest
Boris Johnson has said coronavirus lockdown restrictions will be in place until 8 March at the earliest.
Speaking in the House of Commons on Wednesday, the prime minister said schools won’t reopen and “other economic and social restrictions” won’t be eased until then.
The date happens to be a target set by a group of lockdown-sceptic Conservative MPs for Johnson to start easing the current lockdown.
Johnson told MPs: “If we achieve our target of vaccinating everyone in the four most vulnerable groups with their first dose by 15 February, 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 8 March.
“We hope it will therefore be safe to begin the reopening of schools from Monday, 8 March.
“With other economic and social restrictions being removed thereafter as and when the data permits… then or thereafter I should say.”
Johnson revealed his government would set out a roadmap for lifting lockdown in the week beginning 22 February, with schools opening no earlier than two weeks later.
The announcement amounts to an extension of England’s national lockdown by another three weeks. On Monday, it was suggested Johnson wanted to start easing restrictions – including reopening schools – on 15 February.
The PM warned that the country remains in “a perilous situation” with huge pressure on hospitals.
Following the announcement, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer called out the PM for having previously challenged him to declare that schools are safe – when they are now not able to open until March.
Starmer said: “Even for this PM, it’s quite something to open schools one day, close them the next, to call them vectors of transmission and then to challenge me to say that schools he’s closed are safe.
“Only now to give a statement where he says that schools can’t open until 8 March at the earliest because it’s not safe to do so. That’s his analysis, it’s the sort of nonsense that’s led us to the highest death toll in Europe and the worst recession.
“But of course we welcome any steps in reopening schools and we’re going to look at the detail of how the education secretary [Gavin Williamson] plans to deliver this and the plans to deliver online learning.”
Johnson responded: “He knows perfectly well that the problem is not that schools are unsafe – they are not unsafe, schools are safe and he should say it and his union paymasters should hear him say it loud and clear.
“The problem is that they bring communities together, obviously, and large numbers of kids are a considerable vector of transmission. It’s not that there’s any particular extra risk to those involved in education.”
Meanwhile, Johnson also promised that children who are eligible for food parcels or vouchers will receive these until they return to school.
He said: “As we are extending the period of remote learning beyond the middle of February I can confirm that the government will prolong arrangements for providing free school meals with those eligible children not in school, including food parcels and the national voucher scheme, until they have returned to school.”
Watch: What you can and can't do during England's third national lockdown