BRITAIN’S lockdown may be extended into March if the vaccine rollout is too slow, Michael Gove warned today.
The Cabinet minister insisted that the Oxford and Pfizer jabs were the key to the lockdown ending, after Boris Johnson introduced a fresh seven-week national ban last night.
He told everyone to stay at home until at least the middle of February, and for people to only leave their homes for essential reasons.
The PM set an ambitious target of getting the 13million most vulnerable people vaccinated by the middle of February, and after that lockdown measures can begin to be eased.
However, ministers face a mammoth uphill task to get to that point, which government medical advisers have said will stop 99 per cent of hospitalisations.
By the middle of February, the PM said the nation was expected to have been offered to everyone in the top four priority groups – all people in care homes and carers, everyone over the age of 70, all frontline health and social care workers, and everyone who is clinically extremely vulnerable.
Just over one million vaccines have been dished out so far – with the Oxford jab coming into hospitals this week.
He said today that the lockdown may have to continue if the deadline is not met.
Progress would be reviewed in the final week of lockdown – the 15th of February – but March was the point at which restrictions would likely be lifted, he said.
He told Sky News: “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.”
Restrictions won’t all be lifted at once, with them “progressively” loosened, he added.
He added: “One of the things that this dreadful virus has shown is that it’s very, very difficult to make predictions weeks out.
“But we can’t, at this stage, make a hard and fast 100% prediction about what we’ll be able to do.”
He warned of “very, very difficult weeks ahead” as Britain battled to reduce the spread of the virus, the NHS struggling to cope, and the vaccine being rolled out as quickly as possible.
The UK is in a “race against time” against the new variant, which spreads even faster, the Cabinet minister said.
Today Tory MPs were more pessimistic about England’s chances, with Tory MP David Davis predicting: “I suspect it’s the end of March or April before we get out” of lockdown.
From today, people in England will only be able to leave their house for a certain number of allowed reasons.
Schools will be shut again, with only the children of key workers of vulnerable children permitted to attend.
The drastic intervention will last for at six weeks.
Boris has said the huge spike in cases – with 58,000 recorded today alone – has forced him to act.
And the Covid alert level is going up to five for the first time too, the highest level of alert meaning the NHS may be overwhelmed within three weeks.
Similar rules will be in place in Scotland, too, with Wales and Northern Ireland already under their own restrictions.