UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has warned that regional restrictions in England are "probably about to get tougher" to curb rising Covid infections. He said stronger measures may be required in parts of the country in the coming weeks. He also warned that this included the possibility of keeping schools closed, although this is not "something we want to do". But he added ministers had to be "realistic" about the spread of the new variant of the virus.
Mr Johnson said the government was "entirely reconciled to doing what it takes to get the virus down," and warned of a "tough period ahead". He also said increasing vaccination would provide a way out of restrictions and that he hoped "tens of millions" would be vaccinated in the next three months.
Defending his handling of the pandemic, the prime minister said the government had taken "every reasonable step that we reasonably could" to prepare for winter. But he said ministers "could not have reasonably predicted" the new, more transmissible variant of the virus that has emerged over the autumn. He also urged parents to send their children to primary school on Monday if they are open in their area, adding he had "no doubt" schools were safe.
Secondary schools in England are due to stagger their return - with pupils taking exams in 2021 starting on 11 January, and other year groups returning in person on 18 January. In London and some surrounding areas, primary schools will not open for most pupils until 18 January.
In other areas of England, primaries are due to return on Monday, with teaching unions and some councils calling for them to also stay closed. However Amanda Spielman, the head of Ofsted, England's schools watchdog, said closures should be kept to an "absolute minimum".