COVID-19: Economy will be unlocked 'gradually' after English schools reopen, says vaccines minister

·3-min read

England's economy will be unlocked gradually after schools hopefully return at the start of March, the vaccines minister has told Sky News.

Nadhim Zahawi gave an insight into what Prime Minister Boris Johnson's promised roadmap out of lockdown, earmarked to be announced on 22 February, will look like.

He confirmed the government intends to start reopening schools in England on 8 March, to allow immunity against COVID-19 to build up among the top four groups prioritised for a jab.

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And in a suggestion the government wants to get the economy moving as soon as possible, he added more restrictions could then be lifted.

"Mid-February, if you add another three weeks to that when the vaccine protection really does begin to kick in, you're at the first week of March," he said on Thursday.

"So that's when we will begin to first of all open schools and then begin a gradual reopening of the economy, if we continue to see good data."

He added lockdown being eased is "predicated on really high quality data" of hospitalisation rates coming down and the falling of deaths, which he added "still remain far too high" and are at a "grim" level.

It comes as The Daily Telegraph reported Chancellor Rishi Sunak is worried scientists are shifting their advice on when lockdown should end.

The paper quoted one source who said: "Rishi is concerned that the scientists have been moving the goalposts in recent weeks. It's no longer just about hospitalisations and protecting the NHS but cases and case numbers.

"Now the target seems to be that we need to keep cases down overall, which wasn't the original aim of the lockdown... The talk has switched to becoming COVID-free."

Steve Baker, deputy chair of the COVID Recovery Group - a lobbying effort by Tory backbenchers against restrictions they deem too tough - also responded to the report by calling Mr Sunak "potentially our best chancellor ever".

Tory backbenchers have begun raising fresh concerns after Nicola Sturgeon announced schools in Scotland could return from 22 February - triggering questions about why the country is moving faster than England.

Marcus Fysh, a Conservative MP, said Mr Sunak's reported concerns were "quite right", adding: "As soon as vulnerable groups have been vaccinated and their immunity has spun up (14 days) we must open the economy completely and return to normal."

Several ministers have privately expressed concerns that some decisions are overly cautious at the moment.

And they expressed worry the cabinet so-called "doves" - those in favour of tougher restrictions - like Health Secretary Matt Hancock and Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove, are a bit too dominant in decision-making.

It comes after a further 1,322 people died withing 28 days of testing positive for coronavirus and 19,202 people more people tested positive.

Just over 10 million people have also now had their first dose of a COVID-19 shot.

Mr Zahawi also said vaccine manufacturers are already planning to tweak their jabs to be more effective at tackling variants, of which there are around 4,000 worldwide.