Gove told The Telegraph on Tuesday that with the virus gathering speed, affecting more people, and pressuring hospitals, “We are facing a race against time.”
He said the government’s ability to start lifting restrictions, and then only gradually, by the beginning of March was heavily predicated on speeding up the pace of vaccination.
“What we need to do is make sure that as many people as possible, especially the vulnerable first, are vaccinated and we will be able to review the progress that we’ve made on the fifteenth of February, just before the traditional half term,” he said.
“I think its right to say that as we enter March, we should be able to lift some of these restrictions but not necessarily all,” he said.
Gove’s guarded predictions on when Britain could begin “progressively to lift restrictions” come the day after Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced new lockdown rules for England.
They will plunge the country into its third national lockdown since the pandemic began last spring, ditching the local tiered system, which Johnson says has failed to hold back a surge of the new CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus variant.
Under his latest lockdown rules, people can’t leave home without a “reasonable excuse.”
They can go to work only if it is not possible to work at home and leave their houses only to shop for essentials, and once daily for exercise in their local area.
Socialising is restricted to within the same household and legally allowed bubbles, and close contact care home visits are prohibited.
Up to two people from different households can meet but for exercise only while socially distancing outdoors.
Education is online and schools are closed to all age groups except for vulnerable children and those of key workers.
Places of worship can remain open for communal worship under the new rules, but people must stay with their own household or bubble. Weddings and funerals can also go ahead but with attendance limits.
Hospitality businesses, except for takeaway and delivery services, must close as must gyms and non-essential retail.
Domestic and international travel, meanwhile, is only permitted for a legally exempted reason.
The government has requested that people follow the new lockdown rules immediately.
They are set to be voted on in Parliament before they can be made law and come into force on Wednesday.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon also announced a national lockdown for Scotland on Monday.
Johnson’s announcement of the new lockdown rules for England came on the same day that the rollout of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine started in the UK.
The government has ordered 100 million doses of the vaccine—enough to potentially inoculate the whole country.
Simon Veazey contributed to this report.