PM says schools are going to be the first to end lockdown, but refuses to provide date for return of pupils
Boris Johnson has told MPs that when the lockdown is lifted, schools would be the first to reopen – but emphasized that he will be “extremely careful” on when that could happen.
The House of Commons was assembled to address the rules required for the reinstatement of the England-wide lockout declared on Monday by the prime minister.
On Wednesday, speaking to MPs, Johnson defended his decision to close schools at the last minute after pupils returned for the day in several parts of the country, saying he had struggled to keep schools open.
“The schools were the very last to close, as I always promised,” he said, adding, “When we start to come out of lockdown, I promise they will be the very first to reopen.”
“That moment could come after the February half-year, although we should remain extremely cautious about the timing.”
The prime minister also gave a notice to companies who want to know when they will be able to reopen in sectors such as hospitality, saying the new legislation will not expire until the end of March and it will be a gradual process to lift the freeze.
“Like last spring, the exit from the lockdown will not be a big bang, but a gradual unwinding,” he said.
In recent weeks, he defended the government’s handling of the pandemic, claiming that the graduated restriction method operated across England before the current Covid variant became widely accessible.
“The tiers that the House agreed to last month worked with the old variant,” he said, adding, “It is inevitable that the facts will change, and we must change our response. We have no choice.”
“The data show that our efforts to contain the spread of the new variant would not be sufficient if schools continue to act as a potential vector for the spread of the virus between households.”The information shows that if schools continue to act as a possible vector for the spread of the virus between households, our efforts to contain the spread of the new variant will not be enough.
As a way out of the crisis, Johnson tried to emphasize the potential for accelerated delivery of the Covid vaccine, calling it a “sprint” compared to the “marathon” of the lockdown last year.
He reiterated that “the NHS is committed to offering a vaccine to everyone in the four key priority groups by February 15.”
This covers those above the age of 70, care home employees and frontline NHS staff. “To work toward this goal, there are already more than 1,000 vaccination centers across the country,” he said.
In locations such as sports stadiums and showrooms, the prime minister said there will be seven large-scale new vaccination centers beginning next week.
He said that the U.K. 1.3 million people have now been vaccinated, more than the rest of Europe combined, and a regular report on the number of people vaccinated has been promised.
Labour Party leader Keir Starmer said the lockdown steps would be endorsed by his party, but criticized the pace of Johnson’s reaction. “Tighter restrictions are needed,” he said. “We will support them and vote for them and urge everyone to comply with the new rules – stay home, protect the NHS, save lives.”
“But Starmer said the lockdown was “not inevitable,” but “part of a trend.” He said the government was too slow to respond during the crisis: it refused to listen to an official summer report titled “Preparing for a Tough Winter,” among other things, which warned of the possibility that during the winter the virus could mutate and overwhelm the NHS.
A few Conservative MPs roundly challenged the need for the lockout during the debate. In late January and February, Graham Brady, chairman of the Backbench 1922 Committee, called for the House of Commons to be granted further chances to vote on the legislation.
Desmond Swayne, the MP for New Forest West, pointed out regulatory irregularities, claiming they were “steeped in petty malice.” Johnson replied, “Petty, yes; malicious, no.”
Jeremy Hunt, the former health secretary, asked about the outcomes of research on whether Covid vaccines were successful against the new variants. Johnson responded, “There’s no reason to believe that any new strain of the virus is resistant to the vaccine.”
Ian Blackford, leader of the SNP at Westminster, called on the Prime Minister to close the boundaries of the United Kingdom to any