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