The prime minister has said he hopes it will be safe to reopen schools in England from 8 March, as he told MPs he intends to set out a plan for easing lockdown in the week beginning 22 February.
Addressing the Commons, Boris Johnson confirmed pupils will not be returning to the classroom after the February half-term.
The PM said ministers “do not yet have enough data to know exactly how soon it will be safe to reopen our society and economy”.
“The first sign of normality beginning to return should be pupils going back to their classrooms,” Johnson said.
“I know how parents and teachers need as much certainty as possible, including two weeks’ notice of the return of face-to-face teaching.
“So I must inform the House that for the reasons I have outlined it will not be possible to reopen schools immediately after the February half-term.”
Johnson said he knew “how frustrating that will be for pupils and teachers who want nothing more than to get back to the classroom”, as well as parents and carers who have “spent so many months juggling their day jobs, not only with home schooling but meeting the myriad other demands of their children from breakfast until bedtime”.
The PM said the country remains in a “perilous situation” with COVID-19, but things should be clearer by the middle of next month.
“By then we will know much more about the effect of vaccines in preventing hospitalisations and deaths,” he explained.
As a result, Johnson told MPs that the government intends to publish its plan for easing lockdown, once it has reviewed the data, in the week beginning 22 February.
“That plan will of course depend on the continued success of our vaccination programme, the capacity of the NHS and on deaths falling at the pace we would expect as more people are inoculated,” he said.
The PM said now was the time to “hold our nerve in the end game of the battle against the virus”.
“Our goal now must be to buy the extra weeks we need to immunise the most vulnerable and get this virus under control so that together we can defeat this most wretched disease, reclaim our lives once and for all,” Johnson told MPs.
Primary and secondary schools in England have been closed for all pupils, apart from the children of key workers and those who are vulnerable, during the country’s third lockdown.
A return in February was suggested by Johnson as a possibility when he announced the shutdown, but ministers in recent weeks have pointedly declined to give a firm date for primary schools returning.
In an interview with Sky News last week, Health Secretary Matt Hancock refused to guarantee that schools would reopen before Easter.
Johnson has said that reopening schools will be a priority as lockdown is eased.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has called for teachers and support staff, along with other key workers, to be prioritised for a coronavirus jab over the February half-term, once those in the top four priority groups have been inoculated.
The party says the move should form part of a “national effort” to get pupils back in the classroom.
It would mean teachers and support staff being offered a vaccine alongside individuals in priority groups five to nine on the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation list.
The party said that other workers who should be prioritised include transport workers, supermarket staff, police officers, firefighters and prison staff.
*Courtesy: Sky News