Boris Johnson: ‘Cautious but irreversible’ route out of lockdown could include key dates

15 February 2021, 11:47 | Updated: 15 February 2021, 12:46

By Maddie Goodfellow

Boris Johnson has said the Government will provide target dates for sectors to reopen "if we possibly can" when he reveals his road map for releasing lockdown next week.

Speaking to broadcasters in Orpington, the Prime Minister said: "If we possibly can, we will be setting out dates.

"And just to help people think about what we're trying to do on February 22, remember what we did around about this time last year, or a little bit later - we set out a road map going forward into the summer looking a little bit beyond, that's what we're going to be trying to do.

His comments come as Ministers look to begin reviewing coronavirus lockdown restrictions in England after more than 15 million people across the UK received their first dose of a vaccine.

The Prime Minister will this week begin considering how restrictions in England may be eased ahead of a statement on February 22 setting out his "road-map" out of lockdown.

Boris Johnson will set out his roadmap out of lockdown next week
Boris Johnson will set out his roadmap out of lockdown next week. Picture: PA
Boris Johnson made the comments during a visit to a coronavirus vaccination centre at the Health and Well-being Centre in Orpington
Boris Johnson made the comments during a visit to a coronavirus vaccination centre at the Health and Well-being Centre in Orpington. Picture: PA

Mr Johnson continued: "The dates that we will be setting out will be the dates by which we hope we can do something at the earliest, if you see what I mean - so it's the target date by which we hope to do something at the earliest.

"If, because of the rate of infection, we have to push something off a little bit to the right, to lay it for a little bit, we won't hesitate to do that.

"I think people would much rather see a plan that was cautious but irreversible and one that proceeds sensibly in accordance with where we are with the disease."

Read more: Lockdown review date: When does lockdown end? Start and finish date revealed

It follows reports today that ministers are discussing plans to allow some shops to reopen, families to meet again and self-catering staycations to be allowed if Covid-19 infection rates continue to fall.

Reports suggest that restrictions on outdoor exercise and socialising could be eased as early as next month.

It is thought that this will be followed by the reopening of non-essential shops with pubs and restaurants being allowed to serve people outdoors by April. 

Indoor hospitality would not return until at least May, with the possibility of delay until summer, reports suggest. 

Read more: Roadmap out of lockdown 3: When and how Covid-19 restrictions will be lifted in the UK

However, when asked about schools returning, Boris Johnson said that no decisions have been made on whether year groups across schools in England will return together or whether primaries and secondaries could be staggered.

He told reporters: "No decisions have been taken on that sort of detail yet, though clearly schools on March 8 has for a long time been a priority of the Government and of families up and down the country.

"We will do everything we can to make that happen but we've got to keep looking at the data, we've got to keep looking at the rates of infections, don't forget they're still very high, still 23,000 or so Covid patients in the NHS, more than in the April peak last year, still sadly too many people dying of this disease, rates of infections, although they're coming down, are still comparatively high.

"So we've got to be very prudent and what we wanted to see is progress that is cautious but irreversible and I think that's what the public and people up and down the country will want to see."

On Monday morning, Health Secretary Matt Hancock told LBC lockdown measures will be lifted by government "as soon as we safely can".

Speaking to Nick Ferrari on LBC, Matt Hancock was asked if the current restrictions in place will be "the last lockdown".

Mr Hancock replied: "Well let's hope so, that is the goal. The Prime Minister will set out on February 22, which is a week today, the road map out.

"We want to see a sustainable exit. And of course we want to lift lockdown measures as soon as we can, but as soon as we safely can.

"And that's the balance that has to be struck, and it's a challenging judgement.

"We will look at all of the data this week and the Prime Minister will set out details of that roadmap a week today."

Tory MP Steve Baker told LBC that pubs and restaurants should be open by Easter as he called for this lockdown to be the last.

Tory MP and deputy chair of the Covid Recovery Group Steve Baker said he is calling for this to be the last lockdown: "The timetable is intimately connected to the vaccination rollout."

He said: "We now know that we're hitting the top four groups... so that means that when they're protected from 8 March the onus is on ministers then to really justify restrictions that remain in place to show that they're proportionate to the harm that Covid can then do.

"When we get to Easter, we'll have vaccinated two-thirds of groups one to nine, that includes people under the age of 50 who are vulnerable. For hospitality, Easter's a very big deal...so we're saying at Easter, venues, pubs, restaurants, hospitality should be open in a Covid-secure way."

He referred to the measures in place when venues were open in the summer, such as mask wearing for leaving your seat and screens between tables.

Mr Baker continued that the Government is promising to vaccinate groups 1-9 by 1 May so "we think all legislative restrictions should come off then."

"If ministers want to keep restrictions in place the onus is to justify restrictions at that point," he said.