Watch: Lockdown ‘should’ start to ease in March, says Gove
England’s new coronavirus lockdown may last until March, according to a government minister.
Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove said some of the lockdown measures could be lifted in two months, if the vaccine rollout goes according to plan.
On Monday, Boris Johnson announced a new national lockdown for England, saying the coming weeks could be the “hardest yet” of the pandemic.
Government guidance for the new restrictions say people must remain inside except for essential medical need, shopping for food, exercising once a day or working if it cannot be done from home.
The PM suggested in his address to the nation that restrictions may start to ease in February.
The UK reported more than 50,000 daily coronavirus cases on Monday for the seventh day running, while hospital admissions have passed the level of the peak last April.
Schools will be closed to most pupils up until half-term next month.
Gove rowed back from the prime minister’s deadline, telling Sky News on Tuesday: “We will keep these constantly under review, but you are absolutely right, we can’t predict with certainty that we will be able to lift restrictions in the week commencing February 15 to 22.
“What we will be doing is everything that we can to make sure that as many people as possible are vaccinated, so that we can begin to progressively lift restrictions.
“I think it is right to say that as we enter March we should be able to lift some of these restrictions but not necessarily all.”
On Monday, Johnson pledged that up to 13 million people – comprising health workers, care home residents and those aged 70 and over – will be offered a COVID-19 vaccine by the middle of February.
Gove said: “The government is doing everything it can in order to ensure that we can roll out the vaccine more rapidly, help the vulnerable by getting the inoculations they need and make sure that at the end of what will inevitably be very, very difficult weeks, that life can eventually return to normal.
“What we do know is that the more effective our vaccination programme, the more people who are protected in that way, the easier it will be to lift these restrictions.”
In a separate interview with BBC Breakfast, Gove said the NHS was working “24/7” to ensure 13 million people are vaccinated by the middle of February.
“We know that we’ve vaccinated one million people up to the weekend,” he said.
“We’re increasing the numbers this week and we’re hoping, as the prime minister outlined, to reach just over 13 million in February.
“The process of making sure the vaccine can be placed in the appropriate vials and then safely injected into people’s arms is a complicated exercise but the NHS has more than risen to the challenge.
“We have some of the best public servants in the world working in our NHS and they are working 24/7 in order to ensure that we can inject people, whether that is in hospitals or through GPs or in other ways.
“We’re seeking to reach as many people as possible as quickly as possible.”
Watch: Boris Johnson outlines COVID vaccine rollout