Boris Johnson has told reporters that ministers will start to look at easing national lockdown rules in under three weeks.
The Prime Minister had previously said schools would be the first to open, but told media gathered at a vaccine centre this morning that ministers would be “looking at the potential of relaxing some measures” before mid-February.
He went on: “I do think now this massive achievement has been made of rolling out this vaccination programme, I think people want to see us making sure we don’t throw that away by having a premature relaxation and then another big surge of infection.
"I totally understand the frustrations of parents, I really thank teachers for what they’re doing, the immense efforts they’re going to teach kids online, and the Government has provided a lot of laptops… I know that’s no substitute for direct face-to-face learning.
"Believe me there’s nothing I want to do more than reopen schools, I’ve fought to keep schools open for as long as I possibly could.
“We want to see schools back as fast as possible, we want to do that in a way that is consistent with fighting the epidemic and keeping the infection rate down.”
Prime Minister Boris Johnson visited a vaccination site at Barnet Football Club in north London on Monday morning, where around 13,000 jabs have been delivered since mid-December.
During his visit he talked to reporters about the issue of schools.
Asked if he could give a firm date for schools reopening, Mr Johnson said: “Daily we’re looking at the data and trying to work out when we’re going to be able to lift restrictions.
“Schools obviously will be a priority but I don’t think anybody would want to see the restrictions lifted so quickly while the rate of infection is still very high so as to lead to another great spread of infection.
“We’ve now got the R down below 1 across the whole of the country, that’s a great achievement, we don’t want to see a huge surge of infection just when we’ve got the vaccination programme going so well and people working so hard.
“I understand why people want to get a timetable from me today, what I can tell you is we’ll tell you, tell parents, tell teachers as much as we can as soon as we can.”
Boris Johnson had told the House of Commons ahead of the crucial third lockdown vote, at the start of the month: “When we begin to move out of lockdown I promise that [schools] will be the very first things to reopen.
"That moment may come after the February half term although we should remain extremely cautious about the timetable ahead.
“As was the case last spring, our emergence from the lockdown cocoon will not be a big bang but a gentle unravelling.”
Additional reporting by PA