Boris Johnson has warned that it is “still early days” to start talking about opening up society, as reports suggested pubs could reopen in May.
The Prime Minister has committed to setting out a “road map” later this month for easing restrictions as he faces pressure from Conservative MPs to relax the current lockdown once the most vulnerable have been vaccinated.
Downing Street confirmed on Friday that the vaccine programme planned to reach all those aged 50 and over, as well as adults aged 16-65 in an at-risk group, by May.
A quick update from me on where we are. Some encouraging progress this week, but we’re not there yet. This weekend please stay at home to protect the NHS and save lives. pic.twitter.com/oyOwwfyadB
— Boris Johnson (@BorisJohnson) February 5, 2021
Mark Harper, chairman of the Covid Recovery Group – made up of lockdown-sceptic Tory MPs, said it would be “almost impossible to justify having any restrictions in place at all” by the time the top nine groups had been inoculated.
The former chief whip also asked the Prime Minister to consider getting pupils back into classrooms this month rather than delay until his target date of March 8.
The devolved administrations in Wales and Scotland have both announced that some primary schools year groups will return by February 22.
In a video posted on Twitter on Friday, Mr Johnson reiterated his promise to announce a “steady programme for beginning to unlock” in just over two weeks’ time, but warned it was “still early days” and urged the public to continue following lockdown rules.
He said: “I want to stress that it is still early days and we have rates of infection in this country (that are) still very, very high and (have) more people – almost twice as many people – in our hospitals with Covid now than there were back at the peak in April.”
The Sun reported that ministers are preparing to allow pubs to serve takeaway pints in April before fully reopening in May.
Restrictions such as the 10pm curfew will be scrapped to ease confusion, the paper suggested.
Meanwhile, the Telegraph said the prospect of dry pubs was being discussed as an option to allow bars to open their doors in April.
A senior Government source was dismissive about the idea, telling PA news agency: “We are not going to open pubs that can’t sell booze. What would be the point of that?”
As well as differing reports about when and how the hospitality sector could start up again, there was confusion over whether the Government would provide “vaccine passports” to allow those who had received both jabs to travel abroad for their holidays in the summer.
Foreign Office minister James Cleverly said the Government would work with other countries to “help facilitate” coronavirus immunity passports if they are required by destinations abroad.
But both Number 10 and Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the concept was not currently being considered, although Mr Hancock said it would be kept “under review”.
In a sign that the current restrictions are working, the reproduction number, or R value, of coronavirus transmission across the UK fell to between 0.7 and 1, according to the latest Government figures – down from between 0.7 and 1.1 last week.
It has been suggested that, with falling case numbers, lockdown easing could pave the way for outdoor team and individual sports to resume, as well as outdoor gatherings, within weeks of schools returning in March.
In related news:
– Chancellor Rishi Sunak said he wants to provide “breathing space” for businesses struggling during the pandemic by allowing them a further six-month reprieve, on top of the initial 12 month payment holiday, to make their first repayment on Government support loans.
– Primary school children aged older than seven and secondary school pupils in Wales will use a mixture of face-to-face teaching and online lessons when they return, First Minister Mark Drakeford has said.
– Dr Martin Griffiths, the NHS national clinical director for violence reduction, said he was “not prepared to tolerate” hesitancy among fellow staff and others from black, Asian and other minority groups to get the Covid-19 jab and urged them to get vaccinated.
– Downing Street said Mr Johnson and French president Emmanuel Macron agreed there must be “a collaborative effort between governments” on the Covid-19 vaccine rollout.
Government figures showed that more than 10.9 million first doses of the vaccines have been administered, as of Friday.
However, a further 1,014 people died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19 as of Friday, and there were another 19,114 lab-confirmed cases of coronavirus in the UK.