The UK government will tell teachers and parents when schools in England can reopen "as soon as we can", the prime minister has said. MPs have called on the government to set out a "route map" for reopening amid concerns for children's education.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he understood why people wanted a timetable but he did not want to lift restrictions while the infection rate was "still very high". He would not guarantee schools would reopen before April's Easter break. Mr Johnson said: "We've now got the R [reproduction rate] down below 1 across the whole of the country, that's a great achievement, we don't want to see a huge surge of infection just when we've got the vaccination programme going so well and people working so hard.
"I understand why people want to get a timetable from me today, what I can tell you is we'll tell you, tell parents, tell teachers as much as we can as soon as we can." He said the government would be "looking at the potential of relaxing some measures" before the middle of February, with Downing Street clarifying that this meant looking at the data to decide "what we may or may not be able to ease from February 15 onwards".
A further 592 people have died in the UK within 28 days of a positive Covid test and another 22,195 cases have been recorded, according to government figures. At the Downing Street press briefing, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said almost four in five of the UK's over-80s have had the vaccine, with nearly 6.6m people in total having had their first dose.
But he said the NHS continues to be under "intense pressure", with Jenny Harries, deputy chief medical officer for England, saying there are "twice the number of people in hospital than we had in the first wave" of the pandemic.
Robert Halfon, chair of the education select committee, said there was "enormous uncertainty" and called for the government to set out what the conditions needed to be for pupils to return to schools. He suggested the government could consider tighter restrictions in other parts of society and the economy, in order to enable schools to open.