IT IS "too early" to decide if lockdown restrictions can be eased by Easter as Covid cases are still too high, the Northern Ireland Secretary has said.
Brandon Lewis stressed the date ministers will make decisions on lifting lockdown restrictions is still "weeks away" despite hopes the rules will be relaxed by Easter.
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Boris Johnson has long eyed-off Easter as the end-date for restrictions and the lockdown regulations will expire on March 31 unless they are extended by Parliament.
But Mr Johnson had vowed he hoped to be able to lift them sooner than the end of March.
The Sun revealed in November the PM was hoping for the country to be free of most lockdown rules by Easter – but that was before the super-contagious new strain of Covid ripped through the country.
When asked when he expected the shutdown to end, Mr Lewis said: "I'm afraid it's still a bit early to outline that at the moment that at the moment.
"The Prime Minister said when we put these restrictions in place that we'd have a review point in mid-February, we're still some weeks away even from that review point."
The Northern Ireland Secretary said ministers would consider lifting the rules once the most-vulnerable 13 million people have had a vaccine.
But stressed "we are still in the early days".
Mr Lewis added: "But whether that's in February or whether we move forward in March, it's just too early now in relatively early January to give an outline to that."
Yesterday, the PM warned relaxing the rules would not be an "open sesame" moment and that it would have to be gradual.
And Mr Johnson has said there are promising signs of the second deadly wave of coronavirus "levelling off", a hopeful sign the drastic restrictions could start to be loosened.
More than 4 million Brits have already had the coronavirus vaccine – including half of over 80-year-olds and care home residents.
Last week, chief medical officer Chris Whitty said it was important not to put a "hard stop" on lockdown rules.
"What no one thinks is that suddenly, in Spring, that's the whole thing done.
"What we expect is for things to be substantially better, both in terms of deaths from Covid and hopefully, if we take it sensibly, walking back from restrictions, in a way that keeps the deaths down and the NHS not under presser."
But he said restrictions could last even further after Easter to late Spring.
It comes as fear are growing that schools will be kept shut until Easter – piling massive pressure on Boris Johnson to open them sooner.
Schools in Covid hotspots could also stay closed for longer than those in less afflicted parts of the country, The Sun understands.
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