Lockdown measures will remain in place until at least March 8, Boris Johnson has indicated.

The Prime Minister earmarked that date for the reopening of England’s schools while facing questions from MPs in the Commons.

Mr Johnson confirmed that hopes of pupils returning to class after the February half-term have been abandoned.

The March date is based on progress in vaccinating the most vulnerable groups in society by mid-February and then giving the jab time to take effect.

Mr Johnson also set out tougher measures to prevent the arrival of new strains of coronavirus into the UK, confirming plans for a 10-day quarantine in hotels or other government-provided accommodation for travellers from high-risk countries.

In a Commons statement after the UK’s death toll passed 100,000, he said he would set out the Government’s strategy for the “gradual and phased” easing of lockdown in the week beginning February 22.

But with reopening schools the Government’s top priority, it seems unlikely that other lockdown restrictions will be eased before classes return.

England’s schools are currently closed to all but vulnerable pupils and the children of key workers.

The Prime Minister told MPs: “The first sign of normality beginning to return should be pupils going back to their classrooms.”

But he said the UK remains in a “perilous situation, with more than 37,000 patients now in hospital with Covid – almost double the peak of the first wave”.

By mid-February much more will be known about the effect of vaccines in preventing hospital admissions and deaths, he said.

HEALTH Coronavirus(PA Graphics)

In the week commencing February 22, the Government will publish their plan to bring the country out of lockdown.

“That plan will, of course, depend on the continued success of our vaccination programme, the capacity of the NHS, and on deaths falling at the pace we would expect as more people are inoculated,” Mr Johnson said.

The Prime Minister said if schools reopen on March 8 the “economic and social restrictions” could be eased “then or thereafter”.

During a heated exchange on Wednesday, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer criticised Boris Johnson for challenging him to declare that schools are safe when they are not able to open until March.

He said: “Even for this Prime Minister, it’s quite something to open schools one day, close them the next, to call them vectors of transmission and then to challenge me to say that schools he’s closed are safe.

“Only now to give a statement where he says that schools can’t open until March 8 at the earliest because it’s not safe to do so. That’s his analysis, it’s the sort of nonsense that’s led us to the highest death toll in Europe and the worst recession.

“But of course we welcome any steps in reopening schools and we’re going to look at the detail of how the Education Secretary (Gavin Williamson) plans to deliver this and the plans to deliver online learning.”

Mr Johnson responded: “He knows perfectly well that the problem is not that schools are unsafe, they are not unsafe, schools are safe and he should say it and his union paymasters should hear him say it loud and clear.

“The problem is that they bring communities together, obviously, and large numbers of kids are a considerable vector of transmission. It’s not that there’s any particular extra risk to those involved in education.”