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Government will 'look at potential' of easing lockdown measures within weeks - PM
25 January 2021, 11:24 | Updated: 25 January 2021, 18:14
The Government will look at the "potential" of relaxing some lockdown measures from mid-February, Boris Johnson has said.
It came as the Prime Minister hailed the success of the UK’s vaccination programme, after a record-breaking 491,970 people were injected in a single day over the weekend.
On a visit to a vaccination site at Barnet Football Club in north London, Mr Johnson said ministers were looking at infection rates and progress in vaccinating the top priority groups, which are expected to be completed by mid-February.
"But before then we'll be looking at the potential of relaxing some measures," he said.
His comments come as a surprise after Health Secretary Matt Hancock said on Sunday the Government is a "long, long, long way off" being able to lift lockdown restrictions while case numbers are so high.
Downing Street aides also clarified that Mr Johnson meant February 15 was the earliest point at which any rules could be changed.
On schools, the Prime Minister said parents and teachers would be told “as much as we can as soon as we can”, however he refused to guarantee pupils would return before Easter.
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson is widely expected to confirm this week that there will be no return to the classroom after the February half-term break as ministers had hoped.
Mr Johnson said: "I do think now this massive achievement has been made of rolling out this vaccination programme, I think people want to see us making sure we don't throw that away by having a premature relaxation and then another big surge of infection."
"Believe me, there's nothing I want to do more than reopen schools, I've fought to keep schools open for as long as I possibly could," he added.
"We want to see schools back as fast as possible, we want to do that in a way that is consistent with fighting the epidemic and keeping the infection rate down."
The Prime Minister also said the Government was "definitely looking at" the possibility of travellers arriving in the UK being required to quarantine in hotels.
He said: "We have to realise there is at least the theoretical risk of a new variant that is a vaccine-busting variant coming in, we've got to be able to keep that under control."
He went on: "We want to make sure that we protect our population, protect this country against reinfection from abroad.
"That idea of looking at hotels is certainly one thing we're actively now working on.
"We need a solution that gives us the maximum possible protection against reinfection from abroad."
Senior ministers are due to meet on Tuesday to discuss the proposal to require travellers to pay to quarantine at a designated hotel to ensure they are following self-isolation rules.
The proposal is said to have the backing of key ministers including Chancellor Rishi Sunak, Home Secretary Priti Patel and Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove, as well as Health Secretary Matt Hancock.
It was prompted by the emergence of new variants of the virus in South Africa and Brazil which scientists fear may be less susceptible to the vaccines that have been developed.
The latest Government figures show more than 6.3 million people across the UK have received their first dose of the vaccine.
Based on the latest figures, an average of 393,031 first doses of vaccine would be needed each day in order to meet the Government's target of vaccinating the top four priority groups - including all over-70s - by mid-February.