Boris Johnson is facing increasing pressure not to extend the timetable for the easing of lockdown, despite warnings from senior scientists.
The Prime Minister has previously stated that he will set out plans for a “road map” to lead the country out of a third lockdown.
In order to meet the Government’s promise of giving teachers, pupils and parents a fortnight to prepare for reopening, Mr Johnson will have to set out his plans on February 22.
But Downing Street would only commit to saying Mr Johnson will set out his road-map out of the lockdown that week – rather than specifically on the 22nd.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “We’ve been clear we will publish the roadmap on the week of the 22nd.
“We will set out the roadmap that week but you’ve got what we’ve said previously about trying to give schools as much notice as possible and we’ve said we’ll give at least two weeks.”
Meanwhile a member of the Government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) warned it was not sensible to set out a road-map at all at the moment.
Wellcome Trust director Sir Jeremy Farrar suggested daily infections needed to fall dramatically before any such move could be considered.
“Transmission is still incredibly high in the UK. If transmission were still at this level and we were not in lockdown, we would be going into lockdown,” he told the BBC.
His comments came after 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.
Conservative former minister Steve Baker, deputy chair of the Covid Recovery Group (CRG) of lockdown-sceptic Tories, said: “Having a full public debate is essential at this time but I fear senior scientists are failing to recognise their power to spread despair and despondency.”
He added: “I look forward to the Prime Minister’s February 22 roadmap out of restrictions so that we can all reclaim our lives once and for all.”
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.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “We want to see infection rates continue to fall across the UK not least so that will ease the pressure on the NHS and ultimately lead to fewer people sadly dying.
“We will look at the data in the round and we will use that to inform the road-map.”
The Prime Minister has signalled he wants England’s schools to reopen on March 8 as the first sign of a return to normality.
Mr Johnson and other ministers have variously committed to detail the plan to ease England’s third national lockdown on Monday 22 or during the week that follows.
On Thursday the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “We’ve been clear we will publish the road map on the week of the 22nd.”
The spokesman said “we’ll give at least two weeks” to schools.
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.”
Tory MP William Wragg raised a point of order on the issue in the Commons, warning a statement after February 22 risked “pushing it towards Easter” before pupils could return to class.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said: “The Prime Minister said he’s aiming for March 8, he needs to keep to that. We do need to get our schools open.”