The 8 key upcoming dates in Britain's 2021 COVID battle
“We are making huge progress in our fight against this virus.”
Boris Johnson is clearly delighted with how the government’s vaccine rollout is going so far, with millions of over-70s set to be offered a jab from this week.
However, with coronavirus infections and hospitalisations still high, there is still much to be done before we can even think about returning to normality.
Here are eight key dates to watch out for over the coming months...
The government’s target date for delivering 14 million vaccines to the top priority groups: over-70s, care home residents, frontline health and social care workers and extremely clinically vulnerable people.
The programme is currently on track, with 3,857,266 jabs delivered as of Saturday.
An estimate from vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi of when England may look at moving back to the tier system of localised restrictions.
He told BBC Breakfast on Monday: “If we take the mid-February target, two weeks after that you get your protection, pretty much, for the Pfizer/BioNTech [and] three weeks for the Oxford/AstraZeneca.”
Of how the lockdown will be eased, he went on: “It will be gradually, it will be probably through the tiered system. But you’re looking at that sort of period, two to three weeks after the middle of February, after we’ve protected the top four cohorts.”
Watch: Easing of lockdown restrictions not before March, says Zahawi
A group of lockdown-sceptic Conservative MPs gave Boris Johnson this date as a target to start easing the current lockdown.
While that decision is ultimately tied in with COVID infections and hospitalisations, and not the demands of a handful of Tory backbenchers, it’s still a date to watch out for as these MPs have caused problems for the prime minister in the past few months. One rebel, Steve Baker, even raised the prospect of a leadership challenge last week.
The date in law when England’s current national lockdown is set to end.
When the restrictions were passed by MPs on 6 January, health secretary Matt Hancock said he didn’t expect the full lockdown to still be in place by 31 March – but failed to guarantee MPs would get a final say.
March, April or May
While discussing when the full lockdown may end, perhaps it’s better to pay more attention to scientists than politicians.
Prof Chris Whitty, known more for showing caution than optimism, said on Friday it is “spring” – defined by the Met Office as March, April or May – when he expects things to be “substantially better than they are at the moment”.
England’s chief medical officer also dismissed a previous claim from Boris Johnson that Prof Whitty had told him Easter, or 5 April, is when life may return to normal.
Calling out the PM for misquoting him at Friday’s Downing Street press conference, Prof Whitty said: “I don't recall I ever personally said it was by Easter.” He added Johnson had been quoting him “rather generously”.
March, April, or May
The government said in its vaccines delivery plan that it aims to have offered a jab to the remaining priority groups – all over 50s and all people over 16 with underlying health conditions – by “spring”.
The date the government hopes to have offered a vaccine to every single adult in the UK.
Foreign secretary Dominic Raab told Sky on Sunday: “Our target is by September to have offered all the adult population a first dose. If we can do it faster than that, great, but that’s the roadmap.”
November or December
A potential plot twist? Prof Chris Whitty has previously warned some restrictions may have to be reimposed in the winter.
Speaking at a Downing Street press conference on 5 January about the process of lifting restrictions as more vaccines are delivered, England’s chief medical officer said: “We’ll then get, over time, to a point where people say this level of risk is one that society is prepared to tolerate, and lift right down to almost no restrictions at all. We might have to bring a few in next winter, for example. That is possible because winter will benefit the virus.”
Watch: What you can and can't do during England's third national lockdown