BORIS Johnson has extended England’s lockdown for at least three weeks – saying March 8 is the “earliest” schools can go back and other restrictions may end.
The PM admitted today that getting kids back to class was the “priority” and would come first – and that children will not be able to head back to class after the February half-term as hoped.
The PM said today that children would continue to learn remotely for another five weeks – and there was not yet enough data to decide when to lift the lockdown measures.
And he told the press conference tonight he wouldn’t risk another surge of the virus by opening schools too quickly – admitting they did contribute towards the case numbers.
Speaking this afternoon, he said the data on lifting any measures wouldn’t be seen until the middle of February.
And no changes would be made before March 8.
He said today: “8th of March is the earliest we think is the earliest for schools to go back.
“I’m hopeful but that’s the earliest we can do it.
“Schools are the priority – they remain the priority. If we make progress and those conditions continue to be satisfied, then we will be looking simultaneously at the other restrictions we have.”
The PM originally said the lockdown would be in place – and schools shut – until the middle of February but left the door open for it to be extended.
It will be a massive blow to parents and children hoping for schools would be able to reopen, as in the November lockdown.
But he promised: “The most important thing is to get kids back in school as soon as we sensibly can.
“That is what the government is determined to do.”
Patrick Vallance appeared to be more pessimistic about lifting measures, saying “it’s going to take weeks for this to come down to really low levels”.
Boris added: “We will not persist for a day longer than is necessary, but nor can we relax too soon, because if we do we run the risk of our NHS coming under still greater pressure, compelling us to re-impose every restriction and sustain those restrictions for longer.”
He said it was the “earliest” date possible for any lifting – in a hint some schools will stay shut after then as part of a possible regional approach.
The PM stressed: “I am hopeful, but it depends on lots of things going right.”
He also promised to publish a roadmap by the end of February – after the recess – of how he intends to put Britain back on the path to normality.
The PM explained today: “So our plan for leaving the lockdown will set out our approach towards re-opening schools.
“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 by about three weeks later, that is by 8 March.
“We hope it will therefore be safe to commence 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.”
He said it would be “frustrating for pupils and teachers” but admitted “it will not be possible to reopen schools immediately after half term.”
England’s schools are currently closed to all but vulnerable pupils and the children of key workers.
Food parcels for the needy will also continue until at least March, he confirmed today too.
Gavin Williamson has promised at least two weeks’ notice before opening.
They have said schools will be the first to reopen – but haven’t given any specific dates yet.
The Education Secretary was unable to guarantee schools would definitely open before Easter – and could only say he “hopes” they will do.
It came as:
Boris also reassured MPs that both vaccines remain effective against the new variant in the South East.
6.8million people have now been vaccinated – 13 per cent of the entire adult population.
First doses have been given to four out of five over 80s – and three in four elderly care home residents.
He stressed: “We are on track to achieve our goal by mid February.”
Speaking at Prime Minister’s Questions, he said: “I grieve every death.
“I and the Government take full responsibility for all the actions I have taken, we have taken in this pandemic.
“There will be a time to reflect and prepare. I don’t believe this is now.
“What the country wants is for us to come together, work to keep the virus under control as we are, and continue to rollout the fastest vaccination programme in Europe.”
Boris told the nation this lunchtime that the UK is on target to deliver vaccines to the most vulnerable Brits by the middle of February as is the Government’s goal.
But he admitted that “perpetual lockdown is no answer” as his own MPs press him for a way out of the repeated shutdowns.
He added that he “hope to be in the next few weeks setting out in much more detail how this country can exit now from this pandemic”.
It came as the PM revealed that border officials and airport staff will stop Brits LEAVING the country under strict new border plans.
The PM revealed that people trying to exit Britain will be stopped if their reason is deemed non-essential.
Holidaymakers will sent packing under the plans, in a bid to stop as many Brits travelling abroad, which is illegal under lockdown laws.
But he handed some hope for summer holidays to sunshine destinations later in the year by only imposing strict hotel quarantine on 22 high risk destinations.
The new measures, which also include more testing for people arriving into the country, have been imposed to stop the spread of potential vaccine-busting Covid mutations and have been introduced on nations where new strains have emerged.
Addressing MPs today, the PM said: “I want to make clear that under the stay home regulations, it is illegal to leave home to travel abroad for leisure purposes.
“We will enforce this at ports and airports by asking people why they are leaving and instructing them to return home if they do not have a valid reason to travel.”
Brits returning to the UK from 22 “red list countries” will face strict isolation rules, with passengers forced to fork out around £1,500 for a ten-day stay in a hotel.
It means travellers returning from the likes of South Africa, Brazil, and Portugal will have to cough up.
The PM said: “We have also banned all travel from 22 countries where there is a risk of known variants, including South Africa, Portugal, and South American nations.
“In order to reduce the risk posed by UK nationals and residents returning home from these countries, I can announce that we will require all such arrivals who cannot be refused entry to isolate in government provided accommodation, such as hotels for 10 days without exception.
“They will be met at the airport and transported directly into quarantine.
“The Department of Health and Social care is working to establish these facilities as quickly as possible.”
Holiday hotspots France, Spain and Greece have been handed exemption – but it’s understood the quarantine measures would be kept under review – which could see the strict rules slapped in place at any point in the future.
Labour’s Nick Thomas-Symonds, the Shadow Home Secretary said the plan “is leaving gaping holes in our nation’s defences against different strains of the virus emerging around the world.”
He added: “The proposals are half-baked, slow at being implemented and risk being ineffective at this crucial moment in our race to get Britain vaccinated.
“Labour is calling for a comprehensive hotel quarantine for all arrivals to secure us against new strains.”
BUMPED UP THE LIST
It came as Labour officially demanded that key workers – including teachers and police – get the vaccine ahead of the over 60s.
Sir Keir Starmer said that after the most vulnerable people are vaccinated by the middle of February, the 10 million keyworkers must be next on the list.
It goes against the advice from the Government’s scientific experts, who have already set out a priority list of nine groups to get the jab first.
The Labour boss said today: “Does he [the Prime Minister] agree with me that once the first four categories of the most vulnerable have been vaccinated by mid-February, he should bring forward the vaccination of key workers and use the window of the February half-term to vaccinate all teachers and all school staff?”
The PM said any vulnerable teachers would already get the jab, and that others would get it as soon as possible.
He added: “We all want to open schools.”
‘OUT OF THEIR DEPTH’
Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick insisted the Government took coronavirus “extremely seriously” throughout – as he defended the response to the pandemic this morning.
He told ITV’s Good Morning Britain: “The Prime Minister that I have watched throughout this crisis has approached this with huge seriousness.
“He is someone who himself came close to death as a result of the virus and that had a huge and lasting impact on him and his family, as you would expect.”
But GMB presenter Piers Morgan got into a heated debate, and told Mr Jenrick “some of your colleagues… they’re useless” and “completely out of their depth”.
The Cabinet minister replied: “We are all working under immense strain, but that is no excuse, we all have to make sure that we are making the best possible decisions that we can with the information that is available to us.”