Britons head to parks and beaches on first weekend of fine weather

Britons have flocked to the great outdoors on the first weekend of fine weather after weeks of dreary lockdown misery – as Boris Johnson prepares to unveil his highly-anticipated ‘roadmap’ to freedom on Monday.

Pubs are set to serve people outdoors from April,  while two households of any size will be allowed to meet outside as the Prime Minister prepares his highly-anticipated plan for exiting the country’s third national shut-down – which began on January 5. 

And Britons seem to have got a head start on the imminent rule change, with coat-clad crowds soaking up the sun as the mercury started to creep up this morning.

Revellers gathered in Wimbledon and Primrose Hill to take their daily exercise and enjoy the mild weather today. 

In Suffolk, one brave bather stripped down to her swimsuit for a dip in the water – as the mild air temperature offset the chilly sea.

Picnics and outdoor gatherings are banned under lockdown rules, with Britons are ordered to stay indoors for all but essential reasons.

These include Government-mandated daily exercise which can be carried out with one person from a different household – but picnics and outdoor gatherings are banned. 

It comes as the UK recorded 355 more coronavirus hospital deaths today – falling by almost 30 per cent in a week.  

A total of 307 patients died in England, alongside 29 in Scotland, 16 in Wales and three in Northern Ireland.

Britons have flocked to the great outdoors (Primrose Hill in London, pictured) on the first weekend of fine weather after weeks of dreary lockdown misery - as Boris Johnson prepares to unveil his highly-anticipated 'roadmap' to freedom on Monday

Britons have flocked to the great outdoors (Primrose Hill in London, pictured) on the first weekend of fine weather after weeks of dreary lockdown misery - as Boris Johnson prepares to unveil his highly-anticipated 'roadmap' to freedom on Monday

Britons have flocked to the great outdoors (Primrose Hill in London, pictured) on the first weekend of fine weather after weeks of dreary lockdown misery – as Boris Johnson prepares to unveil his highly-anticipated ‘roadmap’ to freedom on Monday

Members of the public enjoy walking through Victoria Park in east London on Saturday as warm weather hits swathes of the UK

Members of the public enjoy walking through Victoria Park in east London on Saturday as warm weather hits swathes of the UK

Members of the public enjoy walking through Victoria Park in east London on Saturday as warm weather hits swathes of the UK

Joggers, walkers and cyclists are seen making their way through Victoria Park in east London on Saturday as warmer weather moves in

Joggers, walkers and cyclists are seen making their way through Victoria Park in east London on Saturday as warmer weather moves in

Joggers, walkers and cyclists are seen making their way through Victoria Park in east London on Saturday as warmer weather moves in

Borough Market in London was extremely busy today as countless revellers flocked outdoors to get takeaway drinks and enjoy the sunshine

Borough Market in London was extremely busy today as countless revellers flocked outdoors to get takeaway drinks and enjoy the sunshine

Borough Market in London was extremely busy today as countless revellers flocked outdoors to get takeaway drinks and enjoy the sunshine

While non-essential shops remain shut, members of the public picked up takeaway drinks and food from cafes near Victoria Park in east London

While non-essential shops remain shut, members of the public picked up takeaway drinks and food from cafes near Victoria Park in east London

While non-essential shops remain shut, members of the public picked up takeaway drinks and food from cafes near Victoria Park in east London

In Suffolk, one brave reveller (Kate Aherne, pictured on Southwold Beach) stripped down to her swimsuit as the mild air temperature offset the chilly water

In Suffolk, one brave reveller (Kate Aherne, pictured on Southwold Beach) stripped down to her swimsuit as the mild air temperature offset the chilly water

In Suffolk, one brave reveller (Kate Aherne, pictured on Southwold Beach) stripped down to her swimsuit as the mild air temperature offset the chilly water

Temperatures are set to skyrocket today, with highs of 63F (17C) - with the potential to hit the 64F (18C) mark in some regions. Pictured: Families by the sea in Hastings, East Sussex

Temperatures are set to skyrocket today, with highs of 63F (17C) - with the potential to hit the 64F (18C) mark in some regions. Pictured: Families by the sea in Hastings, East Sussex

Temperatures are set to skyrocket today, with highs of 63F (17C) – with the potential to hit the 64F (18C) mark in some regions. Pictured: Families by the sea in Hastings, East Sussex

Soaring temperatures will be a welcome break for those still recovering from the 'dangerous' blizzards and sub-zero temperatures brought by the 'Baltic Beast' - or Beast from the East II - earlier this month. Pictured: Two people on Primrose Hill in London today

Soaring temperatures will be a welcome break for those still recovering from the 'dangerous' blizzards and sub-zero temperatures brought by the 'Baltic Beast' - or Beast from the East II - earlier this month. Pictured: Two people on Primrose Hill in London today

Soaring temperatures will be a welcome break for those still recovering from the ‘dangerous’ blizzards and sub-zero temperatures brought by the ‘Baltic Beast’ – or Beast from the East II – earlier this month. Pictured: Two people on Primrose Hill in London today

Britons are already taking advantage (Primrose Hill, pictured), with coat-clad crowds soaking up the sun as the mercury started to creep up this morning

Britons are already taking advantage (Primrose Hill, pictured), with coat-clad crowds soaking up the sun as the mercury started to creep up this morning

Britons are already taking advantage (Primrose Hill, pictured), with coat-clad crowds soaking up the sun as the mercury started to creep up this morning

Adding to the pull to the great outdoors is the promise of skyrocketing temperatures today, with highs of 63F (17C) predicted – and the potential to hit the 64F (18C) mark in some regions. 

Warm weather will be a welcome break for those still recovering from the ‘dangerous’ blizzards and sub-zero temperatures brought by the ‘Baltic Beast’ – or Beast from the East II – earlier this month. 

The Prime Minister is poised to allow more social mixing within weeks, providing a light at the end of the tunnel for millions of grandparents isolated from their grandchildren. 

Ministers are looking at the data and a final decision on when the restrictions will be eased will be taken at the weekend.

It is thought the new plan could replace the ‘Rule of Six’ as entire families, regardless of size, are expected to be allowed to meet up in outside spaces. 

From April, two households would be able to meet outdoors while gatherings of six people from six different households would also be acceptable.

Relatives who live further away from each other may have to wait a little longer for a reunion, as the future rules on travelling longer distances are still unclear. And in the case of those who do meet up, the two-metre rule is expected to remain in place for months to come.  

Their outdoor ventures (Wimbledon Common, pictured) come days ahead of Boris Johnson's much-anticipated plan for exiting the country's third national lockdown - which began on January 5

Their outdoor ventures (Wimbledon Common, pictured) come days ahead of Boris Johnson's much-anticipated plan for exiting the country's third national lockdown - which began on January 5

Their outdoor ventures (Wimbledon Common, pictured) come days ahead of Boris Johnson’s much-anticipated plan for exiting the country’s third national lockdown – which began on January 5

The PM is poised to allow pubs to serve people outdoors from April – although not indoors until May - with two households of any size able to meet outdoors. Pictured: Walkers in Wimbledon Common today

The PM is poised to allow pubs to serve people outdoors from April – although not indoors until May - with two households of any size able to meet outdoors. Pictured: Walkers in Wimbledon Common today

The PM is poised to allow pubs to serve people outdoors from April – although not indoors until May – with two households of any size able to meet outdoors. Pictured: Walkers in Wimbledon Common today

And Britons seem to have got a head start on the imminent rule change, with crowds seen gathered in Wimbledon and Primrose Hill to take their daily exercise and enjoy the mild weather today. Pictured: A family feeding the swans in Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire

And Britons seem to have got a head start on the imminent rule change, with crowds seen gathered in Wimbledon and Primrose Hill to take their daily exercise and enjoy the mild weather today. Pictured: A family feeding the swans in Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire

And Britons seem to have got a head start on the imminent rule change, with crowds seen gathered in Wimbledon and Primrose Hill to take their daily exercise and enjoy the mild weather today. Pictured: A family feeding the swans in Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire

Large groups of people enjoying the mild weather and warmer temperatures on Wimbledon Common today. One woman took her horse for a walk

Large groups of people enjoying the mild weather and warmer temperatures on Wimbledon Common today. One woman took her horse for a walk

Large groups of people enjoying the mild weather and warmer temperatures on Wimbledon Common today. One woman took her horse for a walk

Britons seem to have got a head start on the imminent rule change, with crowds seen gathered in Wimbledon and Primrose Hill (pictured) to take their daily exercise and enjoy the mild weather today

Britons seem to have got a head start on the imminent rule change, with crowds seen gathered in Wimbledon and Primrose Hill (pictured) to take their daily exercise and enjoy the mild weather today

Britons seem to have got a head start on the imminent rule change, with crowds seen gathered in Wimbledon and Primrose Hill (pictured) to take their daily exercise and enjoy the mild weather today

The Prime Minister is poised to allow more social mixing within weeks, providing a light at the end of the tunnel for millions of grandparents isolated from their grandchildren. Pictured: People in Wimbledon Common today

The Prime Minister is poised to allow more social mixing within weeks, providing a light at the end of the tunnel for millions of grandparents isolated from their grandchildren. Pictured: People in Wimbledon Common today

The Prime Minister is poised to allow more social mixing within weeks, providing a light at the end of the tunnel for millions of grandparents isolated from their grandchildren. Pictured: People in Wimbledon Common today 

Welsh salons to reopen – but no luck for Brit barnets until April 

Hairdressers may be able to open within four weeks – at the same time as non-essential shops – in Wales.

Wales First Minister Mark Drakeford said: ‘If it is possible from March 15 to begin the reopening of some aspects of non-essential retail and personal services such as hairdressing then … that is what we would want to do.’

Hairdressers and barbers had been expected to reopen weeks after shops.

Mr Drakeford’s comments to BBC Breakfast will likely put more pressure on Boris Johnson to do the same in England.

He also announced on Friday that children aged between three and seven will return to schools from Monday, with further pupils joining by mid-March if conditions allow.

Lockdown restrictions, which have been in place in Wales since December 20, will also be slightly eased to allow four people from two different households to exercise together.

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Mr Johnson is set to meet senior ministers tomorrow to hammer out the final details. The committee will examine the latest data on the impact of lockdown and the vaccine rollout, so they can decide how quickly to lift restrictions.

Cabinet will then rubber stamp the plans on Monday morning, before they are revealed to the Commons that afternoon.

The blueprint is likely to see schools return on March 8 along with more relaxed rules on outdoor exercise; the return of outdoor sports like golf and tennis at the end of next month and non-essential shops opening soon after Easter. 

Pubs and restaurants may also be able to serve people outdoors from April – although not indoors until May. 

Ahead of revealing his roadmap out of lockdown, Mr Johnson has also been urged to allow pubs to reopen as soon as possible. 

Beer sales in pubs dropped by 56 per cent in 2020, a decrease of £7.8billion, due to Covid-19 restrictions and the lockdowns, according to British Beer & Pub Association (BBPA) figures. 

Emma McClarkin, BBPA chief executive, believes that pubs should reopen alongside non-essential retail once the most vulnerable in society have been vaccinated, as they have a community role.

She said: ‘The Great British Pub has always been more than just a place to drink. It is where we go to connect. It is where we go to form community.’

There are also fears over workers being made homeless as tens of thousands of pubs are small family businesses which also double up as someone’s home, the BBPA said.

Meanwhile, the co-founder of fast food chain Leon said this morning it is ‘quite plausible’ the company will not exist if the ‘weeks and months drag on’.

John Vincent told Radio 4’s Today Programme: ‘About 235 businesses a week are going under. It’s not being reported, it’s not being understood. 

‘We served 1million meals as to the NHS, a million meals to frontline ITU teams. 

‘If we don’t exist, which is quite plausible if the weeks and months drag on, we can’t even do the basics of what we did to feed a million meals to frontline teams. ‘Businesses are at the heart of a functioning, healthy society. I would say: Produce the analysis, inform yourself and take the whole picture into account for the good of society.’ 

Ministers are looking at the data and a final decision on when the restrictions will be eased will be taken at the weekend. Pictured: Revellers in Wimbledon Common today

Ministers are looking at the data and a final decision on when the restrictions will be eased will be taken at the weekend. Pictured: Revellers in Wimbledon Common today

Ministers are looking at the data and a final decision on when the restrictions will be eased will be taken at the weekend. Pictured: Revellers in Wimbledon Common today

It is thought the new plan could replace the 'Rule of Six' as entire families, regardless of size, are expected to be allowed to meet up in outside spaces. Pictured: Walkers in Wimbledon Common today

It is thought the new plan could replace the 'Rule of Six' as entire families, regardless of size, are expected to be allowed to meet up in outside spaces. Pictured: Walkers in Wimbledon Common today

It is thought the new plan could replace the ‘Rule of Six’ as entire families, regardless of size, are expected to be allowed to meet up in outside spaces. Pictured: Walkers in Wimbledon Common today

From April, two households would be able to meet outdoors while gatherings of six people from six different households would also be acceptable. Under current rules, picnics (one pictured) are not allowed

From April, two households would be able to meet outdoors while gatherings of six people from six different households would also be acceptable. Under current rules, picnics (one pictured) are not allowed

From April, two households would be able to meet outdoors while gatherings of six people from six different households would also be acceptable. Under current rules, picnics (one pictured) are not allowed

Picnics and outdoor gatherings are banned under lockdown rules, with Britons are ordered to stay indoors for all but essential reasons. Pictured: Walkers in Wimbledon today

Picnics and outdoor gatherings are banned under lockdown rules, with Britons are ordered to stay indoors for all but essential reasons. Pictured: Walkers in Wimbledon today

Picnics and outdoor gatherings are banned under lockdown rules, with Britons are ordered to stay indoors for all but essential reasons. Pictured: Walkers in Wimbledon today

Essential reasons include Government-mandated daily exercise - which can be carried out with one person from a different household - but picnics and outdoor gatherings are banned. Pictured: Revellers on Primrose Hill in London today

Essential reasons include Government-mandated daily exercise - which can be carried out with one person from a different household - but picnics and outdoor gatherings are banned. Pictured: Revellers on Primrose Hill in London today

Essential reasons include Government-mandated daily exercise – which can be carried out with one person from a different household – but picnics and outdoor gatherings are banned. Pictured: Revellers on Primrose Hill in London today

The Prime Minister (pictured) is poised to allow more social mixing within weeks, providing a light at the end of the tunnel for millions of grandparents isolated from their grandchildren

The Prime Minister (pictured) is poised to allow more social mixing within weeks, providing a light at the end of the tunnel for millions of grandparents isolated from their grandchildren

The Prime Minister (pictured) is poised to allow more social mixing within weeks, providing a light at the end of the tunnel for millions of grandparents isolated from their grandchildren

A rower on the River Avon in Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire, today as the weekend brings milder weather to vast swathes of the country

A rower on the River Avon in Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire, today as the weekend brings milder weather to vast swathes of the country

A rower on the River Avon in Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire, today as the weekend brings milder weather to vast swathes of the country

‘So that’s money that isn’t going into the economy, it’s not going into the wallets of people that work at Leon, and it’s not going to pay the taxes that we need to pay.

‘So that absolutely costs lives and its quite disappointing that the government hasn’t produced in any way… if you magnify that. 

Five-minute Covid test could spark opening of nightclubs, gigs and cinemas 

Nightclubs, theatres and sporting events could reopen thanks to a five-minute coronavirus test, scientists have revealed.

Yorkshire biotech firm Avacta has developed a rapid test that could pave the way for the so-called Operation Moonshot, reported the Huffington Post.

The operation is a plan to reopen thousands of clubs and theatres across Britain.

The new Avacta test has more rapid and accurate results than the American devices currently in use.

Boris Johnson is already set to announce the use of lateral flow tests, which take 30 minutes, in his roadmap to reopen Britain.

But these five-minute devices could make entry to venues much quicker.   

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‘No one has asked us these numbers. So how does the Government even know what is going on in the economy?’ 

It comes as the Government was last night forced to deny that Chris Whitty feels ‘very unhappy’ about plans for a ‘big bang’ reopening of schools on March 8.

Downing Street knocked down claims the chief medical officer has concerns a full return – rather than a staggered approach call for by unions – will cause a spike in infections. 

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has made clear his ambition for all 10 million schoolchildren and staff to return on March 8. The children would be tested for coronavirus twice a week in an effort to control the spread of the virus.

But education sources told The Guardian Mr Whitty was ‘very unhappy’ with the plan. Some officials are concerned a mass return will both rise infection rates and pose problems with administering covid tests to pupils.

Both ministers and senior advisers want Mr Whitty to publicly back a full return, but he is said to be ‘lukewarm’.

A Department for Education source last night branded the claim ‘absolute b******t’. A government source also said the claim was ‘categorically untrue’.

SAGE have modelled the impact of sending all children back to school at once, against a staggered year-by-year approach.

They believe that sending all children back to school at once will inevitably lead to a slightly bigger rise in the R value than only a smaller number of children.

However, Government scientists have stressed that it is up to ministers to weigh up these risks against the well-being of children.

Officials including Mr Whitty have repeatedly stressed the immense damage to children of staying at home target than being at school.

The ONS infection survey estimated 481,300 people in England would have tested positive for the virus on any given day in the week to February 12, a dip of 30 per cent compared to the same time last week

The ONS infection survey estimated 481,300 people in England would have tested positive for the virus on any given day in the week to February 12, a dip of 30 per cent compared to the same time last week

The ONS infection survey estimated 481,300 people in England would have tested positive for the virus on any given day in the week to February 12, a dip of 30 per cent compared to the same time last week

But separate data from the ZOE Covid Symptom Study app suggested cases have plateaued. It said there were 14,064 new infections a day in the UK in the second week of February, a drop of just five per cent compared to the last seven-day spell. Their app can only pick up symptomatic infections, and not those with no warning signs thought to account for at least a third of all cases

But separate data from the ZOE Covid Symptom Study app suggested cases have plateaued. It said there were 14,064 new infections a day in the UK in the second week of February, a drop of just five per cent compared to the last seven-day spell. Their app can only pick up symptomatic infections, and not those with no warning signs thought to account for at least a third of all cases

But separate data from the ZOE Covid Symptom Study app suggested cases have plateaued. It said there were 14,064 new infections a day in the UK in the second week of February, a drop of just five per cent compared to the last seven-day spell. Their app can only pick up symptomatic infections, and not those with no warning signs thought to account for at least a third of all cases

The ONS also showed Covid infections had dropped in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland compared to the previous week

The ONS also showed Covid infections had dropped in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland compared to the previous week

The ONS also showed Covid infections had dropped in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland compared to the previous week

And every region in England was also seeing infections continuing to fall in the week to February 12

And every region in England was also seeing infections continuing to fall in the week to February 12

And every region in England was also seeing infections continuing to fall in the week to February 12

Infections are now lowest among those aged over 70. But it is not clear whether this is due to the vaccine, with scientists saying they are only starting to see early signs of the jabs 'doing their job' in some areas

Infections are now lowest among those aged over 70. But it is not clear whether this is due to the vaccine, with scientists saying they are only starting to see early signs of the jabs 'doing their job' in some areas

Infections are now lowest among those aged over 70. But it is not clear whether this is due to the vaccine, with scientists saying they are only starting to see early signs of the jabs ‘doing their job’ in some areas

Public Health England data published revealed Covid cases had plunged in all but two regions of England in the second week of February. They only rose in Tameside, Greater Manchester, and North East Lincolnshire

Public Health England data published revealed Covid cases had plunged in all but two regions of England in the second week of February. They only rose in Tameside, Greater Manchester, and North East Lincolnshire

Public Health England data published revealed Covid cases had plunged in all but two regions of England in the second week of February. They only rose in Tameside, Greater Manchester, and North East Lincolnshire

The slow opening is likely to anger hospitality chiefs who have demanded an accelerated lifting of restrictions, given the success of the vaccine rollout. It is as yet unclear when domestic staycations or travel around Britain will be allowed to resume.  

Co-founder of fast food chain Leon: ‘It is quite plausible we won’t exist if the weeks and months drag on’

The co-founder of fast food chain Leon said this morning that the company is losing around £200,000 every week ‘of cash going out the bank’ and warned that it is ‘quite plausible’ the company will not exist if the ‘weeks and months drag on’.

John Vincent told Radio 4’s Today Programme: ‘About 235 businesses a week are going under. It’s not being reported, it’s not being understood. 

‘We served 1million meals as to the NHS, a million meals to frontline ITU teams. 

‘If we don’t exist, which is quite plausible if the weeks and months drag on, we can’t even do the basics of what we did to feed a million meals to frontline teams. 

‘Businesses are at the heart of a functioning, healthy society. I would say: Produce the analysis, inform yourself and take the whole picture into account for the good of society.’

He added: ‘We are losing about £200,000 a week of cash going out the bank. 

‘And that probably means that versus what we would’ve been making, we’re losing probably an extra £800,000. 

‘So that’s money that isn’t going into the economy, it’s not going into the wallets of people that work at Leon, and it’s not going to pay the taxes that we need to pay.

‘So that absolutely costs lives and its quite disappointing that the government hasn’t produced in any way… if you magnify that. 

‘No one has asked us these numbers. So how does the Government even know what is going on in the economy?’   

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However, the First Minister of Wales raised the prospect that these could be possible as soon as Easter yesterday, saying that self-catering accommodation could be re-opened in the principality.

Mark Drakeford said allowing people to rent out self-contained accommodation would be a big boost to the tourism industry.

He said that following a meeting with tourism bosses yesterday, he was hoping to relax some measures ‘around the Easter period’.

He told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme: ‘The most that we would be doing would be the reopening of self-contained accommodation where there aren’t shared facilities and there isn’t social mixing.

‘But if we could do that – and six weeks is a very long time in this business – if we could do that in six weeks’ time, I know that would be a boost to the industry and a big boost to hundreds of thousands of families in Wales for whom going down [to] the caravan for a few days for a break would be a very welcome prospect.’

Meanwhile there are also indications that Britons may yet be able to go on foreign holidays this summer. The Government is considering internationally recognised vaccination passports that will allow people to travel and is in talks with holiday destinations such as Greece about how they will work.

The roadmap is not expected to include a timeline for easing restrictions on holidays.

One Government source said: ‘It’s looking increasingly positive on summer holidays. Once the vaccination passport system is set up it should be straightforward. That won’t be easy, but we can see the way ahead.’

Foreign Office minister James Cleverly said no firm decisions had been taken but ‘we will speak to international partners about what they may require and respect that’. 

He told the BBC: ‘It would be wrong for me to start speculating now. We are assessing the numbers, we are making a judgment based on the science and we will be making an announcement on Monday. I can’t go further than that.’

Haris Theoharis, the Greek tourism minister, said that vaccination passports and mass testing could allow for a ‘semi-normal summer’.

The aviation industry are expecting a task force to be announced to come up with a plan for when international travel could be re-started. An industry source said: ‘I think that provides the Government the ability to say we’ve heard aviation, while telling the public, we’re not moving too fast here.

‘What’s frustrating for us is we’ve been trying to do our part to support the Government but we’ve been getting very little support back.’ 

Government denies Chris Whitty was ‘very unhappy’ about schools reopening in March 

The Government was forced to deny last night that Chris Whitty felt ‘very unhappy’ about plans for a ‘big bang’ reopening of schools on March 8.

Downing Street knocked down claims that the chief medical officer had concerns that a full return – rather than the staggered approach called for by unions – would cause a spike in infections.

Boris Johnson has made it clear that he wants all ten million schoolchildren and staff to return on March 8.

But education sources told The Guardian Mr Whitty was ‘very unhappy’ with this.

Downing Street knocked down claims that the chief medical officer had concerns that a full return – rather than the staggered approach called for by unions – would cause a spike in infections. Pictured, Chris Whitty

Downing Street knocked down claims that the chief medical officer had concerns that a full return – rather than the staggered approach called for by unions – would cause a spike in infections. Pictured, Chris Whitty

Downing Street knocked down claims that the chief medical officer had concerns that a full return – rather than the staggered approach called for by unions – would cause a spike in infections. Pictured, Chris Whitty

Some officials fear a mass return will increase infection rates and create problems administering pupils’ Covid tests.

Ministers and senior advisers want Mr Whitty to back a full return publicly, but he is said to be ‘lukewarm’.

Last night, a Department for Education source branded the claim ‘absolute b******t’, and a Government source also said it was ‘categorically untrue’.

The Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), which advises the Government, has modelled the impact of sending all children back at once against a staggered, year-by-year approach.

It believes the first option will lead to a bigger rise in the so-called ‘R value’ – which measures how quickly the virus will spread. But it insists ministers must weigh up the risks against pupils’ wellbeing.

Officials including Mr Whitty have repeatedly stressed the damage to children of being forced to stay at home.

The Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), which advises the Government, has modelled the impact of sending all children back at once against a staggered, year-by-year approach. Pictured, children arriving at Manor Park School in Cheshire last month

The Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), which advises the Government, has modelled the impact of sending all children back at once against a staggered, year-by-year approach. Pictured, children arriving at Manor Park School in Cheshire last month

The Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), which advises the Government, has modelled the impact of sending all children back at once against a staggered, year-by-year approach. Pictured, children arriving at Manor Park School in Cheshire last month

Unions want a phased return. Nine organisations representing teachers, heads, support staff and governors united to warn against the Prime Minister’s plan. They said getting all children back at once on March 8 seemed a ‘reckless action’ that could ‘trigger another spike in Covid infections, prolong the disruption of education and risk throwing away hard-won progress made in suppressing the virus’.

In a statement, they called on the Prime Minister to only commit to the March 8 date if the scientific evidence was ‘absolutely clear that this is safe’, and he should ‘go no further than a phased return’.

Mr Johnson is due to set out a roadmap out of lockdown on Monday. But Geoff Barton, of the Association of School and College Leaders, wrote on the Times Educational Supplement website to urge caution rather than ‘risking a big bang that could blow up in our faces’.

A Department for Education spokesman said: ‘Schools are the best place for young people’s education, development and wellbeing. Pupils will return from March 8 at the earliest.’

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