England’s tough lockdown restrictions will last until at least Good Friday, according to reports.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson is said to be making “top secret” plans for an Easter easing of rules so families can mix.
But if the vaccine rollout runs into significant difficulties, the Mirror report that even this date could look optimistic.
Originally, the current lockdown was expected to ease on February 22 with schools opening and England returning to a tier system.
But ministers are said to have been warned that with the exception of schools, there is unlikely to be any relaxation of the current measures by the upcoming review point in the middle of next month.
The reports come after the UK recorded a further 1,610 coronavirus deaths on Tuesday – the highest number reported on a single day since the outbreak began.
Public Health England (PHE) said the figure – for those who had died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19 – brought the UK total to 91,470.
Separate figures published by the UK’s statistics agencies for deaths where Covid-19 has been mentioned on the death certificate, together with additional data on deaths that have occurred in recent days, show there have now been 108,000 deaths involving the virus in the UK.
When the Prime Minister announced England’s third lockdown, he said at the time: “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.”
He later admitted “a lot of things have to go right” for lockdown to start easing by then, and Dominic Raab warned there would not be a single “big bang” when restrictions do end.
Mr Johnson had also claimed that restrictions would be substantially lifted by Easter Sunday.
The PM said: “I think we can certainly look forward to a very, very different world in this country, from Easter onwards.”
The latest target for any significant lifting of the lockdown is now Good Friday on April 2, according to The Sun.
And top secret plans are said to be being drawn up at Downing Street for people to meet up with their families over Easter.
A source told the newspaper: “It’s way too soon to start talking about when, but the work is being done quietly on the how.”
Home Secretary Priti Patel today said it is too early to discuss easing the coronavirus restrictions.
She told Sky News: “We are at a pivotal stage. Our vaccine rollout is under way but we have a long way to go with vaccination.
“We cannot talk about easing restrictions and measures until we are absolutely clear we have vaccinated priority groups.”
Asked whether mid-February remained the target for lifting some measures, she said that remained the aim for targeting those in the top four priority groups but that it was “no time to speak about” relaxations when the NHS was under such current strain.
Ms Patel added: “Quite frankly, when I look at the incredible work that is taking place in the NHS right now, when we still see hospitalisation figures now standing at over 38,000 people, with the number of people still dying with coronavirus, with the number of hospital admissions increasing, this is no time to speak about the relaxation of measures and we’re not going to do that publicly yet.
“We have a long way to go.”
Public Health England announced yesterday the latest deaths are up on last Tuesday when the country recorded 1,243 Covid fatalities.
However, cases fell for a fourth consecutive day and are at their lowest point since December 27, when 30,501 infections were announced.
A further 33,355 new cases were recorded on Tuesday, bringing the total number of positive tests to 3,466,849.
More than 4.2 million people have now received their first dose of the vaccine in the UK – an increase of over 200,000 from the previous day.
-- to www.walesonline.co.uk