When Boris Johnson addressed the nation on Monday evening, he was keen to offer a glimmer of hope as he announced a seven-week lockdown. The Prime Minister said that the lockdown would be reviewed in the week commencing 15 February – with a hope of sending pupils back to school after the February half term. This is the date by which Johnson aims to have vaccinated 13.2 million people, making up the most vulnerable and elderly.
However, anyone thinking about making firm plans for the following week may need to think again. As has become a trend in this pandemic, Michael Gove has embarked on a morning round in which he has painted a more pessimistic picture. The cabinet minister said he could not offer any firm commitments when it comes to the easing of lockdown let alone the end of restrictions:
'We hope that we will be able to progressively lift restrictions after that but what I can't do is predict – nobody can predict – with accuracy exactly what we will be able to relax and when'.
Gove pointed to the following month of March as when he expected easing to occur:
'I think it is right to say that as we enter March we should be able to lift some of these restrictions but not necessarily all.'
He stressed that any decision rests on the success of the vaccination programme. Already lockdown sceptic MPs are moving their focus from trying to prevent tougher restrictions to commitments on the post-vaccination exit strategy. But Gove's comments today suggest that what has been billed as a seven-week lockdown could go on much longer if the vaccination programme falls behind schedule.