Reuniting families and allowing people to have more social contact will be an “absolute priority” in easing lockdown after schools reopen, No 10 says.
Options being considered include allowing two households to mix outdoors in the coming weeks.
It comes after confirmation that care home residents in England will each be allowed one regular visitor from 8 March.
The full plan for England’s lockdown easing is due to be set out on Monday.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has previously said that reopening schools will be the first step – but teachers’ unions have said it would be “reckless” to bring back all pupils together.
A final meeting is expected to be held on Sunday before the prime minister unveils the full “road map”.
Any relaxing of social contact rules will be focused on the outdoors, where transmission is less of a risk. The rules for England’s current national lockdown, which began on 4 January, only allow people to meet one person from another household for exercise outdoors.
The devolved nations of the UK have the power to set their own coronavirus restrictions, and have been moving at different speeds to ease lockdown:
- In Scotland, the government hopes to publish a route out of lockdown next week, but First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has urged people not to book Easter holidays
- In Wales, First Minister Mark Drakeford has announced up to four people from two different households can exercise outdoors together from Saturday; he said he hoped the “stay-at-home” requirement could end within three weeks, with some non-essential shops and hairdressers possibly reopening at the same time
- Northern Ireland’s health minister has played down the prospect of restrictions being eased in time for Easter – a review of current measures will take place on 18 March
Mr Johnson said during a coronavirus briefing this week that steps taken to ease lockdown should be “cautious but irreversible”.
He hailed the success of the UK’s vaccine rollout, but warned the threat from the virus remained “very real” and now was not the time to “relax”.
The latest business leader to express concern at lockdown measures continuing is John Vincent, co-founder of fast-food chain Leon, who has said extending lockdowns will “cost lives” as businesses keep losing money that should be going to their employees and the government through taxes.
The political reality is that Boris Johnson had to offer up a date for when he’d explain the path out of lockdown.
There are those on the Tory backbenches who would not have accepted an open-ended timeline.
But the government would argue that naming 22 February wasn’t some arbitrary effort to buy time, rather a logical choice