Boris Johnson has said he wants the lifting of England’s lockdown to be “cautious but irreversible”, as he prepares to set out his plan for the relaxation of rules.
The prime minister is due on February 22 to unveil his proposal for how and when the national lockdown will be unwound.
Speaking on Monday, Johnson confirmed he would reveal dates by which different sectors of society might reopen.
“The dates that we will be setting out will be the dates by which we hope we can do something at the earliest,” he said. “It’s the target date.”
But he warned the government would not “hesitate” to keep restrictions in place if the infection rate was too high.
“I think people would much rather see a plan that was cautious but irreversible and one that proceeds sensibly in accordance with where we are with the disease,” he said.
“If you’ve got loads of people, even young people, getting the disease then a couple of things happen.
“First of all, you have a higher risk of new variants and mutations within the population where the disease is circulating.
“Secondly, there will also be a greater risk of the disease spreading out into the older groups again.”
He added: “If, because of the rate of infection, we have to push something off a little bit to the right, to lay it for a little bit, we won’t hesitate to do that.”
Johnson repeated that reopening schools on March 8, ahead of any other sector, remained his “priority” but added he would “keep looking at the data” before making a decision.
Some Tory MPs are urging Johnson to set out a swift easing of the lockdown.
Over the weekend, more than 60 Conservatives signed a letter demanding the prime minister commit to a firm timetable with the lifting of all legal controls by the end of April.
Over the weekend official figures showed more than 15 million people across the UK received their first dose of a vaccine.
Meeting that target paved the way for the next phase of the rollout – covering the next five priority groups, including the over-50s – to begin.