Government could 'relax' lockdown before mid-February
- Credit: PA
The prime minister has hinted lockdown could be eased before mid-February - as top UEA scientists urge against loosening restrictions.
Boris Johnson suggested on Monday (January 25) morning that rules may be altered within the next couple of weeks.
A lockdown review date is currently scheduled for February 15, by which time the country's top four priority groups are due to have received their first dose of the coronavirus vaccine.
It comes despite UEA experts and other leading scientists stating that "strict control measures" must remain in place.
Speaking from a vaccination site in north London, Mr Johnson told reporters the government would be “looking at the potential of relaxing some measures” before mid-February.
He did, however, highlight the dangers of easing restrictions too soon, including in educational settings.
"Daily we're looking at the data and trying to work out when we're going to be able to lift restrictions," he added.
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"Schools obviously will be a priority, but I don't think anybody would want to see the restrictions lifted so quickly while the rate of infection is still very high."
Having announced another nationwide lockdown at the beginning of the month, the government subsequently confirmed its first major review would come on February 15.
Until then, restrictions in their current form are enshrined in law and police can impose fines on those flouting the rules.
While Mr Johnson has indicated some changes could be made sooner than expected, several experts in infectious disease say strong action remains the best way protect against the virus.
Writing in the medical journal, Virulence, professor's including the University of East Anglia's Kevin Tyler and Cock van Oosterhout said humanity was faced with a "new reality".
The editorial, co-written by Neil Hall, director of Norwich-based Earlham Institute, added: "The faster we adapt, the better our long-term prospects. We must stop the evolution and spread of more virulent virus strains now.
"We, therefore, support public health policies with strict control measures in order to protect our public health system, our individual wellbeing, and our future.”
The researchers highlighted the roll-out of economic stimulus packages - such as the Eat Out to Help Out scheme - as having fuelled the rate of person-to-person transmission.
As a result, they said Covid-19's population number rose from a much higher base when winter arrived.