Good morning. When Boris Johnson announced the latest lockdown on Monday 4 January, he suggested that schools in England might start to reopen after the February half-term. In his TV address to the nation, he said:
If the rollout of the vaccine programme continues to be successful, if deaths start to fall as the vaccine takes effect, and, critically, if everyone plays their part by following the rules, then I hope we can steadily move out of lockdown, reopening schools after the February half-term and starting, cautiously, to move regions down the tiers.
Johnson has never formally withdrawn this comment, although perhaps he doesn’t need to because it must be becoming increasingly obvious to people that the chances of pupils all marching back to school at the end of February are very slim. (One of the features of the pandemic has been that public expectations about future lockdown policies have tended to be a better guide as to what will happen than what ministers are saying at the time.) Now the timeframe has slipped, and on the Today programme this morning Gavin Williamson, the education secretary, was asked if there was any “realistic prospect” of schools reopening before Easter. Williamson said that schools were the last institutions to close, and would be the first to open, but Nick Robinson had to ask his question twice before he got a firm answer. Williamson finally told him:
I would certainly hope that that [schools reopening] would be certainly before Easter …
Any decision to open schools to all children is based on the best health advice and the best scientific advice. The reason that we were placed in the position to close schools to all but the children of critical workers and vulnerable children was down to the mounting pressure on the NHS.
Williamson was doing a full media round this morning. I will post more from his interviews soon.
Here is the agenda for the day.
9.30am: NHS England publishes weekly vaccination figures by region.
9.30am: The ONS publishes data on coronavirus and the economy, and on personal and economic wellbeing.
10am: Jim Harra, chief executive of HM Revenue and Customs, gives evidence to the Commons public accounts committee about post-Brexit border arrangements.
10.30am: Matt Hancock, the health secretary, responds to a Commons urgent question on the vaccine rollout.
11am: NHS test and trace publishes its weekly performance figures.
12pm: Downing Street is due to hold its daily lobby briefing.
12.15pm: John Swinney, Scotland’s deputy first minister, and Jason Leitch, the national clinical director, are holding a daily coronavirus briefing.
2pm: Public Health England publishes its weekly Covid surveillance report.
5pm: A UK minister is expected to hold a press conference at No 10.
Politics Live is now doubling up as the UK coronavirus live blog and, given the way the Covid crisis eclipses everything, this will continue for the foreseeable future. But we will be covering non-Covid political stories too, and when they seem more important or more interesting, they will take precedence.
Here is our global coronavirus live blog.
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