It is currently “too early” to tell whether or not lockdown restrictions will end in the spring, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said.
The PM said that after the four priority groups have been vaccinated against Covid - which is planned to be completed by mid-February - the Government will “look then at how we're doing".
Speaking during a visit to flood-hit Didsbury in Manchester, Mr Johnson said: “We’ll look then at how we’re doing but I think what we’re seeing in the ONS data, in the React survey, we’re seeing the contagiousness of the new variant that we saw arrive just before Christmas - there’s no doubt it does spread very fast indeed.
“It’s not more deadly but it is much more contagious and the numbers are very great.”
Important to continue following lockdown rules
The Prime Minister also said it was "absolutely crucial" that people continue to observe the lockdown rules and restrictions.
This comes after Health Secretary Matt Hancock urged those who have received a coronavirus vaccine to continue to be cautious and follow the rules, as the jab does not work immediately.
Mr Hancock said: “After you’ve been vaccinated, you can still catch coronavirus for several weeks and it’s really important that people know this.
“It’s important that everybody post-vaccination continues to follow those rules, both to bring the number of cases down because of the impact on transmission and also to protect themselves,” Mr Hancock added.
“The vaccine is the way out but it doesn’t work immediately and people still need to be cautious.”
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has also said it was an "impossible question" to say how long the lockdown would need to last, but that the Covid vaccines were "really good news".
However, he added that the vaccines "should not mask the fact that we have still got a very serious problem".
Could lockdown restrictions continue into summer?
In regards to lockdown restrictions continuing into the summer months, Downing Street would not rule this out.
When asked directly whether lockdown restrictions lasting into the summer could be ruled out, the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “We will continue to keep all of the scientific evidence and data under review.
“It remains our position that we want to ease restrictions as soon as it is safe to do so, but in order for us to do that we need to see the transmission rates of the virus come down and we need to see the pressure on the NHS reduce.”