England’s third national lockdown will be extended until at least 8 March, the Prime Minister has announced, as ministers ramp up plans to get the nation vaccinated before easing restrictions.
Speaking in the Commons, Boris Johnson said schools in England will also stay closed until the spring, rather than mid-February as originally planned.
“If we achieve our target of vaccinating everyone in the four most vulnerable groups by 15 February, and every passing day sees more progress towards this goal, then we hope by three weeks later — 8 March — it will be safe to begin the opening of schools,” he said.
The PM added he was “acutely conscious” of the pressures of working from home with childcare, adding that it would be “incredibly frustrating” news for parents and pupils.
“I know parents and teachers need as much certainty as possible, including two weeks’ notice of reopening,” he said. “I must inform the House it will not be possible to reopen schools immediately after the February half-term.”
The government will prolong current Free School Meals arrangements, including the national voucher scheme and food parcels until children return to the classroom.
Johnson said a “programme of catch-up” would provide an additional £300m to schools for tutoring, alongside a “Covid premium” to support long-term support for pupils affected by the pandemic.
“I know the measures I am setting out today will be disappointing for all of us. But the way forward has been clear ever since the vaccines arrived,” he told MPs.
The Prime Minister called on the public to “hold our nerve in the endgame in the battle against the virus,” adding that the vaccine rollout promised the light at the end of the tunnel.
Ministers have doubled down on plans to vaccinate the 14.9m most vulnerable members of the public by 15 February — in less than three weeks’ time.
So far, just over 6.8m have received their first dose of the vaccine — around 13 per cent of the UK’s adult population.
The government has vowed to immunise all over-18s in the country by the second half of the year, after the Prime Minister earlier this month promised a return of the “Great British summer”.
However, concern over a slew of new coronavirus mutations around the world has raised doubts over the short-term future of international travel.
Johnson today confirmed all arrivals to the UK from 22 countries earmarked as at risk of carrying a new Brazilian variant will be required to quarantine in government-provided hotels for 10 days.