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England’s lockdown ‘should’ start being eased in March, minister says

Written by on 5 January 2021

The government “should be able” to begin easing England’s coronavirus lockdown in March, a senior minister has told Sky News.

Michael Gove said the public should not expect a sudden relaxation of the COVID-19 rules, with restrictions “progressively” relaxed instead.

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‘Stay at home’: New lockdown for England

And he warned of “very, very difficult weeks ahead” as the country battles to reduce the spread of coronavirus, which is being driven by a new, more transmissible variant.

As vaccines continue to be rolled out, the country is in a “race against time” against the variant, Mr Gove added.

He acknowledged that the government’s new target of offering a COVID-19 jab to nearly 14 million people in the top four priority groups by the middle of February was “stretching”, but stressed it was achievable.

Asked how long the lockdown could last, the Cabinet Office minister said ministers would “review the progress that we’ve made” on 15 February.

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He added: “We hope that we will be able to progressively lift restrictions after that but what I can’t do is predict – nobody can predict – with accuracy exactly what we will be able to relax and when.

“What we do know is that the more effective our vaccination programme, the more people who are protected in that way, the easier it will be to lift these restrictions.”

What are the new lockdown rules across the UK?

What are the new lockdown rules across the UK?

Pressed again on a timeframe for easing restrictions, Mr Gove said: “We will keep these constantly under review but you are absolutely right, we can’t predict with certainty that we will be able to lift restrictions in the week commencing February 15-22.

“What we will be doing is everything that we can to make sure that as many people as possible are vaccinated, so that we can begin to progressively lift restrictions.

“I think it is right to say that as we enter March we should be able to lift some of these restrictions but not necessarily all.”

He was speaking after Boris Johnson introduced a third national lockdown in England, with people told to “stay at home” as they did during last March’s first shutdown.

The prime minister revealed the action in an eight-minute TV address on Monday night, after being told that COVID-19 cases are rising rapidly in every part of the country due to the new variant.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer told Sky News he has some “quarrels and criticisms” with the government over the latest shutdown, but added that “everybody recognises how serious this is”.

“This is a time where we all have to say we will support the restrictions and do what we can to make these work,” he said.

Sir Keir said he had “doubts” about the vaccination target outlined by the PM, adding: “This is a race against time – I want the government to succeed… and I will offer my support.”

It was also announced by Mr Johnson on Monday that all primary schools, secondary schools and colleges are now closed, except for the vulnerable children and the children of key workers.

Mr Gove said Education Secretary Gavin Williamson would update MPs on Wednesday on how pupils will be assessed at the end of the year.

In addition, he said Chancellor Rishi Sunak would soon announce details of extra support for business.