Boris Johnson has pledged a “cautious but irreversible” approach to easing the lockdown restrictions in England.
As ministers begin to review the current rules, the Prime Minister stressed the need to be “very prudent” when decisions are made.
Mr Johnson is due to set out the “roadmap” for lifting restrictions from next Monday (22 February), with 8 March pinpointed as the start date for reopening schools in England to all pupils.
Target dates for changes
Mr Johnson told reporters that the plan would include target dates for changes, but issued caution, warning high rates of infection could lead to delays in the roadmap.
During a visit to Orpington Health and Wellbeing Centre in south-east London, he said: “When you have a large level of circulation, when you’ve got a lot of disease, invariably the vulnerable suffer so that’s why we want to drive it right down, keep it right down.
"So it's the target date by which we hope to do something at the earliest. If, because of the rate of infection, we have to push something off a little bit to the right, to lay it for a little bit, we won't hesitate to do that.
"I think people would much rather see a plan that was cautious but irreversible, and one that proceeds sensibly in accordance with where we are with the disease."
Schools remains top priority
The reopening of schools continues to remain the minister's top priority, however, reports have suggested schools may return in a staggered approach. This may involve secondary schools going back a week later than primary schools.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said the intention is to “start getting kids back to school from March 8”, but was not ruling out they could be sent back in stages.
Mr Johnson said: “No decisions have been taken on that sort of detail yet, though clearly schools on March 8 has for a long time been a priority of the government and of families up and down the country.
“We've got to be very prudent and what we wanted to see is progress that is cautious but irreversible and I think that's what the public and people up and down the country will want to see."
He added that the government “will do everything we can to make that happen”, but warned that infection rates are still “comparatively high” and Covid-19 patients in the NHS remain higher than the April peak.
Vaccine passports not for pub
The Prime Minister also said that the so-called vaccine passports would not be introduced for activities like going to the pub. However, he acknowledged that some countries may require proof of vaccination before tourists are allowed to enter.
He said: "I think inevitably there will be great interest in ideas like can you show that you had a vaccination against Covid in the way that you sometimes have to show you have had a vaccination against Yellow Fever or other diseases in order to travel somewhere.
"I think that is going to be very much in the mix down the road, I think that is going to happen. What I don't think we will have in this country is - as it were - vaccination passports to allow you to go to, say, the pub or something like that.”