New national lockdown restrictions for England may have to remain in place until March, a senior Cabinet minister has warned.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced a swathe of tougher Covid-19 measures in a televised address on Monday (6 Jan), with the rules expected to last until mid-February.
However, Michael Gove has now said that the relaxation of measures may have to wait even longer, until the following month.
Possible lockdown until March
The third national lockdown for England means people must now stay at home, aside from a few limited exceptions, in an effort to drive down Covid infection rates.
Citizens should only leave their home in a select number of circumstances, including shopping for essentials, to work if they cannot do so from home, to exercise, or for medical reasons.
The rules will become law as of Wednesday (12:01am on 6 January), but people are advised to start following them now.
A review of the measures is expected to be held in around six weeks time, in mid-February, after which restrictions may be progressively eased.
But, in a round of broadcast interviews on Tuesday (5 Jan) morning, Cabinet Minister Gove said that a change to the rules may not come until March, and, even then, some measures may still need to stay in place.
‘We can’t predict with certainty when we can lift restrictions’
Speaking to Sky News, Mr Gove said: “We will keep these constantly under review, but we can’t predict with certainty that we will be able to lift restrictions in the week commencing February 15 to 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.”
Mr Gove added that the government had been forced to impose the tougher measures, which includes the closure of schools, with a “heavy heart” after the chief medical officers of the four nations warned there was a danger the NHS would be overwhelmed by the surge of infections caused by the new Covid1-19 variant.
As the national lockdown was announced, the Prime Minister raised hopes that the restrictions would soon be able to be eased thanks to the vaccination programme being rolled out across the country.
Despite warnings that the coming weeks will be the “hardest yet”, Mr Johnson said that the government expects to vaccinate 13 million of the most vulnerable people by mid-February, paving the way for rules to be lifted.
This means that all people aged 70 and over should receive the vaccine soon, along with healthcare staff and other vulnerable people.
At the top of the priority list are people who live and work in care homes, followed by those over the age of 80 and frontline health and social care workers.
Following this are people over the age of 75, while the fourth group includes people aged 70 and those classed as clinically extremely vulnerable, including those who have been advised to shield.
Mr Johnson said of the top four priority groups: “If we succeed in vaccinating all those groups, we will have removed huge numbers of people from the path of the virus”
“And of course that will eventually enable us to lift many of the restrictions we’ve endured for so long.”