Professor Neil Ferguson said England was in a better position that he had hoped and would have “some bandwidth” to get primary kids back in face-to-face lessons from early March.

And with the shutdown driving down virus rates across the country, the expert says other restrictions could slowly begin to ease after schools reopen.

Prof Ferguson, whose predictions about the potential Covid death toll led to the first lockdown, made the comments hours before it was revealed the UK’s R rate is below one everywhere in the country – for the first time since July.

The academic, who is nicknamed Professor Lockdown and sits on the Government advisory body Nervtag, told a Politico podcast: “We’re in a better place than I might have anticipated a month ago.

“Lockdown has driven down cases quite fast. In a month’s time, we might have some bandwidth to reopen schools, or at least primary schools.”

Boris Johnson has said schools will begin to open from March 8 if all four of the most vulnerable groups are vaccinated by the February 15 deadline.

We reported late last month that ministers were looking at a phased return for schools that would include getting primary schools and key exam age groups back to class first.

Prof Ferguson said restrictions could gradually ease every three weeks after the planned schools reopening date on March 8.

But he warned the Government unlocked the UK too quickly last year – leading to cases surging once again.

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