Johnson refuses to say when schools will reopen
Boris Johnson said he was considering relaxing some Covid-19 measures before mid-February but refused to say schools would be open as normal before Easter.
The prime minister said the government would be "looking at the potential of relaxing some measures" after February's half-term break. But amid speculation that schools will not reopen to all students for some time he was downbeat.
"Daily we’re looking at the data and trying to work out when we’re going to be able to lift restrictions," Johnson told ITV.
"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 … 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."
Schools in England are open for children of key workers and vulnerable pupils with many pupils reporting surprisingly high attendance rates. But many parents are unable to work properly while looking after children at home and the government is under pressure from its own MPs to set out a timetable.
Mark Harper, who chairs the Covid Recovery Group of Tory MPs, said schools should start to reopen three weeks after the top priority groups have received their first vaccine doses.
"At that point you need to start bringing the economy back to life, and the first thing that needs to be reopened are our schools,” Harper told the BBC's Today programme. “All we’re asking for at this point is for the government to set out that sort of plan, based on milestones, based on evidence, so that school leaders, parents, children, have some hope and know what to expect.”
Robert Halfon, the Conservative chair of the House of Commons' education committee, will ask an urgent question about reopening schools on Monday afternoon.
“The whole engine of the state must do everything possible to get our schools open after half-term as was originally proposed,” Halfon told the Guardian.
Johnson did not say what he meant by potentially relaxing some measures, raising questions about how much thought went into the comment. The prime minister has been criticised for raising hopes about relaxations of rules that never materialise.
Alastair Campbell, Tony Blair's former communications chief, tweeted: "What the hell does that even mean? If he is not going to be clear in what he says, say nothing."