The Prime Minister, who on February 22 is due to share details of the exit out of the lockdown that began on January 5, has indicated that the easing of restrictions will be careful so as to avoid a return.
He told BBC News that no decisions have been made but that the proposed March 8 date for the reopening of schools had “for a long time been a priority of the government and families up and down the country”.
“We will do everything we can to make that happen, but we have got to keep looking at the data. There are still 23,000 or so Covid patients in the NHS – more than at the April peak last year – there are still sadly too many people dying of this disease; and rates of infection, although they are coming down, are still comparatively high,” he said.
He added: “So we have got to be very prudent and what we want to see is progress that is cautious but irreversible. I think that is what the public, people up and down the country, want to see.”
Cases in England remain high with more than 88,000 positive cases of the coronavirus recorded last week and an average of 157 cases per 100,000.
However, last week the R number fell below 1 for the first time since July 2020. The R rate refers to the number of people an infected person will pass COVID-19 on to, and when the figure is above 1 an outbreak can grow exponentially.
In a report published by the i newspaper on Friday (February 12), an unnamed senior government official said the Prime Minister has a three-stage plan for reopening the economy.
It’s understood that, following the proposed reopening of schools on March 8, that the government would then assess the effect of that move on the R number. If the R number remains low and coronavirus infections stay at an “acceptable level”, then non-essential shops can begin to reopen towards the end of next month.
Subsequently, in the week leading up to the long Easter weekend (April 2-5), if there is no significant rise in the R number nor infections then hospitality businesses including hotels, restaurants and pubs will be able to open.
Downing Street has not confirmed the report in the i.
Additionally, over the weekend Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab told the BBC’s The Andrew Marr Show that the government would be “cautious” about easing the lockdown. He also rejected the calls of the lockdown-sceptic Covid Research Group (CRG) led by Steve Baker to commit to a complete reopening of all sectors by May 1.
The Prime Minister is due to speak at a press conference about the latest coronavirus news today (February 15) at 5pm on BBC One.