She stopped short of confirming schools will definitely reopen on March 8, though she made clear this was the aim but it was dependent on data.
She told Sky News: “On February 22, the Prime Minister will make a statement to the House of Commons where he will set out our roadmap to ease lockdown.”
She emphasised that next week would be “critical” as scientists and ministers gather all of the data on the epidemic in the UK and abroad.
However, a leading scientist said today that at least primary schools may be able to reopen in about a month’s time.
He said that the country is “in a better place than I might have anticipated a month ago”. He told Politico’s Westminster Insider podcast: “The lockdown has really driven down cases quite fast.
“They’re basically halving about every 17 days or so, and that means in a month’s time, the Prime Minister’s talked about potentially reopening schools, we might have some bandwidth to do that, at least primary schools.
“And if we continue to see then a continued decline… then perhaps starting to relax other aspects of society the following month.”
But the Government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) scientists have said it was not sensible to set out a road map at all at the moment.
Experts have said it could be dangerous to the vaccine drive if emerging strains of the virus were allowed to spread around the country due to stay-at-home orders being relaxed.
Another Sage member, Professor John Edmunds, said “we will have to be under some kind of restrictions for some time” until adults had received two vaccine doses.
On Wednesday, chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance said it was crucial to ease restrictions “cautiously” and rejected the setting of deadlines.
But some CRG members fear the goalposts for easing lockdown are shifting away from vaccinating the most vulnerable and protecting the NHS to a wider goal of suppressing cases to low levels in order to prevent the rise of mutant strains.
Tory MP Steve Baker was among those to push back against the scientists’ guidance, saying Sage was “floating untested hypotheses” that risked spreading “despair and despondency”.
Former chief whip Mark Harper, chairman of the CRG, said: “The Prime Minister, vaccines minister and Health Secretary have all confirmed that the plan for lifting restrictions would come on February 22.
“It’s crucial we don’t backslide on this, not least because the Government has said it wants to give schools two weeks notice before they open, and – as the PM said – it is the ‘settled will’ of most MPs that pupils should be back in school on March 8.”
“I totally understand people wish to start thinking about sunnier climes or thinking about their holidays within the UK.But just at this point in time, we have just got to keep tight and continue all that we are trying to do to bring the pandemic under control,” she added.
Pressed on how long restrictions should last, she stressed: “We have to be led by the data on this. We have got some fantastic news on the vaccination programme, we are on track to meet our target of next Monday giving the first dose to the four most vulnerable priority groups as defined by the scientists, that is great news.”
The jabs would be rolled out to younger people, however, she also said: “We have got to take this step by step.
“We want to move out of lockdown but we have got to do it at a safe pace.”
Doubts were also raised over whether the new measures would be sufficiently stringent as an Australian epidemiologist warned that allowing travellers quarantining in hotels to leave their rooms for fresh air was “very risky”.
Professor Michael Toole, from the Burnet Institute in Melbourne, Victoria, said there have been Covid-19 cases in the city where an infected guest opened their room door and a “fog of virus went out into the corridor, travelled down and infected hotel staff”.
However, Ms Atkins said it was “reasonable” to allow travellers quarantining in hotels a “gulp of fresh air”.
— to www.standard.co.uk