Boris Johnson has promised MPs that schools will be first to reopen when the lockdown is lifted – but stressed he would be “extremely cautious” about when that can happen.
The Commons has been recalled to discuss the regulations needed to reimpose the England-wide lockdown announced by the prime minister on Monday.
Addressing MPs on Wednesday, Johnson defended his last-minute decision to close schools, after pupils in many parts of the country returned for a day, saying he had been battling to keep schools open.
“Schools were the very last thing to close, as I’d always promised that they would be,” he said, adding: “When we begin to move out of lockdown, I promise that they 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.”
The prime minister also sounded a warning to businesses in sectors such as hospitality keen to know when they can reopen, saying the new regulations do not expire until the end of March, because unwinding the lockdown would be a gradual process.
“As was the case last spring, our emergence from the lockdown will not be a big bang but a gradual unravelling,” he said.
He defended the government’s handling of the pandemic in recent weeks, claiming that the approach of tiered restrictions across England was working until the new variant of Covid became widespread.
“The tiers which the house agreed last month were working with the old variant,” he said, adding: “It is inescapable that the facts are changing and we must change our response. We have no choice.”
He added: “The data showed that our efforts to contain the spread of new variant would not be sufficient if schools continued to act as a potential vector for spreading the virus between households.”
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