Primary schools kids WILL be among the first to go back as England 'on track' for March 8 reopening

PRIMARY schools in England will be among the first to reopen – as an expert says the country is on track for restrictions to begin easing in March.

Professor Neil Ferguson, whose warnings about the potential Covid death toll led to the first lockdown, said he hadn't anticipated how well the current restrictions would work.

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And with the shutdown driving down virus rates across the country, the expert says normal life may slowly begin to resume in less than a month.

He made the comments hours before it was revealed the UK's R rate is below one everywhere in the country – for the first time since July.

The academic, who is nicknamed Professor Lockdown and sits on the Government advisory body Nervtag, told a Politico podcast: "We're in a better place than I might have anticipated a month ago.

"Lockdown has driven down cases quite fast. In a month's time, we might have some bandwidth to reopen schools, or at least primary schools."

He said restrictions could gradually ease every three weeks after the planned schools reopening date on March 8.

But he warned the Government unlocked the UK too quickly last year – leading to cases surging once again.

It comes as:

  • Covid lockdown should be lifted ‘sooner rather than later’ as cases fall to near June level, says expert
  • Vaccines are ‘already stopping Covid deaths’ – as roll out to over 60s begins
  • Families are warned they'll face ÂŁ6,400 fines for flouting lockdown with days out during half-term
  • Countries could be added to the hotel quarantine 'red list' with just hours' notice
  • The UK has avoided a double-dip recession – but the economy shrank at the fastest rate for hundreds of years during the pandemic

He said: "I'm much more comfortable with a strategy that implements one change, then watches what happens for three weeks, so we can see the effect of that change.

"Hopefully by May, we'll be in a place much more like October, rather than having ever intensified social distancing."

Boris Johnson this week told ministers there will be no backsliding on his his goal of getting kids back to class from March 8 – despite a mutiny by Sage scientists.

Sir Jeremy Farrar said Covid infections must be cut from the current 750,000 to just 9,000 “before we can think about lifting restrictions”.

Meanwhile, Prof John Edmunds said opening schools could push the R rate above 1, and some restrictions will be needed until Christmas.

Both sit on the committee of scientists that advise the PM on Covid, but broke cover on the same day.

But Mr Johnson, who has vowed to publish his roadmap out of lockdown on February 22, says he'll stick to his deadline for schools if possible.

A Whitehall insider told The Sun: "Nothing in the PM's goal has changed. We will be studying the data next week and fingers crossed it will allow us to proceed as the PM has set out."

Prof Ferguson also discussed the country's "bumpy" road ahead in one of his most upbeat interviews yet.

He said Brits could be allowed to meet friends and loved ones indoors from May as Tier 1-style restrictions are brought in for the areas with the lowest rates of infection.

And at the very least, he thinks the whole of England could be under Tier 2-like restrictions.

Under the lowest tier rules last year, a maximum of six people could meet indoors and outdoors, while pubs were open without punters needing to buy meals and non-essential shops could keep doors open.

In Tier 2, household mixing indoors was banned, but groups of six could meet outside. Pubs and bars were ordered to close unless they could serve food.

"By May time, it's realistic to be in something akin to Tier 2," he said.

"Maybe with areas of very low incidence by that time, we could move to Tier 1 type measures, completely relaxing and having something akin to where we were in August."

Elsewhere today, it was reported that mask wearing and social distancing could be in place for many months to come.

“The thinking is that social distancing will need to be in place for a long time to come,” a Whitehall source told The Times.

“It has repercussions for the scale of any reopening. Restaurants, pubs and offices will all need to be Covid-secure.”

The PM has hinted that England will unlock as one without the regional tiers system and said the virus was "behaving in a similar way" across the country.

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