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Prime Minister Boris Johnson has stressed that the newly minted March 8 date for ending England's national lockdown still "depends on a lot of things going right".
Speaking from No.10 Downing Street on Wednesday afternoon to confirm that schools would not be reopening in February, the PM said he understood the "anxieties and frustrations" of parents, teachers and schoolteachers across the country.
But he described the current infection rate across the country as "forbiddingly high", and stressed that while schools were not dangerous to children, when open they were responsible for spikes in the virus R rate.
"The date of the 8th of march is the earliest that we think its sensible to say schools can go back. We've got to give a certain amount of time for the four groups of elderly and vulnerable people to get the level of immunity that they need.
"I'm hopeful but that is the earliest that we can do it, but it depends on a lot of things going right and it also depends on all of us now working together to continue to drive down the disease using the basic methods.
"Avoiding close physical contact, washing our hands, staying at home, protecting the NHS, all that is absolutely crucial."
And when pressed on how much longer after schools reopened other restrictions might be eased, the PM again hedged his bets.
He vowed that, much like last year, a more detailed "road map" out of restrictions would be published by February 15th that would lay out "tentative dates" by which certain measures might be changed if virus rates continued to come down.
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Earlier on Wednesday, the PM gave a surprise statement to the House of Commons in which he admitted schools across England will not be reopening after the February half term.
He said that it is the government's ambition to reopen on March 8 – if the country's vaccination rollout continues to go to schedule.
The Prime Minister said the Government would set out plans in the week beginning February 22 for the “gradual and phased” route out of lockdown.
England's schools are currently closed to all but vulnerable pupils and the children of key workers.
And in another Downing Street press conference on Tuesday, just hours after the UK's Covid death toll was confirmed to have passed 100,000, Johnson had struck a sombre tone when he vowed that 'lessons would be learned" from the pandemic.
The Prime Minister started that address by telling the nation: "I'm sorry to have to tell you that today the number of deaths recorded from Covid in the UK has passed 100,000.
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"It's hard to compute the sorrow contained in that grim statistic. The years of life lost, the family gatherings not attended, and for so many relatives the lost chance to say goodbye."
Professor Chris Whitty, England's Chief Medical Officer, went on to make the grim warning that there were still "an incredibly high number" of people in hospital with Covid and was "substantially over the peak in April".
That sadly meant, he warned, that the number of deaths across the UK was currently "flattening out, but at a very high level".
He said: "We have to be realistic, that the rate of mortality and the number of people dying per day, will come down relatively slowly over the next two weeks."
- Boris Johnson
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