The government’s plan to move out of lockdown will be “cautious but irreversible”, Boris Johnson has said.
The prime minister is due to set out the roadmap for ending restrictions next Monday.
He told reporters the plan would include target dates for changes “if we possibly can”, but he warned high rates of infection could lead to delays.
It comes as a group of Tory MPs call for a commitment to a “free life” and ending of lockdown measures before May.
Senior backbencher Steve Baker said he wants the prime minister to “let us reclaim our lives, once and for all”.
On Sunday, the government said it met its target to offer a vaccine to the 15 million most vulnerable people across the UK.
Labour said the government must “lock in the gains of the vaccine” and ensure more measures were introduced to reduce the spread of the virus – such as financial support for self-isolation and updated workplace guidance.
Mr Johnson and senior members of his cabinet are set to spend the week looking into the latest coronavirus statistics before making an announcement on its plans.
He said: “The dates that we’ll be setting out will be the dates by which we hope we can do something at the earliest.”
There has been a raft of speculation on the date of re-openings of businesses and hospitality – much of which has been dismissed by Downing Street.
But sources in No 10 told the BBC they were increasingly confident pupils in England would return to school on 8 March – the earliest the PM said the move could happen.
‘Keep looking at the data’
Mr Johnson said no decisions had been taken yet, but the March date for schools had “for a long time been a priority of the government and families up and down the country”.
He added: “We will do everything we can to make that happen, but we have got to keep looking at the data.
“There are still 23,000 or so Covid patients in the NHS – more than at the April peak last year – there are still sadly too many people dying of this disease; and rates of infection, although they are coming down, are still comparatively high.
“So we have got to be very prudent and what we want to see is progress that is cautious but irreversible. I think that is what the public, people up and down the country, want to see.”
Over the weekend, 63 Tory MPs wrote to Mr Johnson, calling for easing to begin in March and for analysis to be released justifying any measures staying in place.
Mr Baker, who is the deputy chair of the lockdown-sceptic Covid Research Group of Tory MPs leading the call, said schools should return on 8 March, hospitality should re-open by Easter and all other elements should be back to normal by 1 May – when all people in the top nine priority groups have been offered a vaccine.
The proposal was rejected by Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, who told the BBC’s Andrew Marr on Sunday that the government would be “cautious”.
But writing in the Telegraph, Mr Baker reasserted his plan, saying: “Now that the risk from Covid is rapidly diminishing as we roll out the vaccine to each of the top nine groups, we must focus on how we open up society in the short run.”
He also called for a new Public Health Act to ensure proper scrutiny for introducing lockdowns, telling BBC Radio 4’s Today programme it would “force the government to prove the proportionality of the measures it leaves in place”.
Mr Baker wrote: “We cannot live in a society where lockdowns are perpetually on the table, in fear that a minister might, without notice, impose restrictions that cost people their jobs, their livelihoods, their ability to date, to marry, to visit family at home and abroad, or to invest in their futures.
“As the prime minister said, let us reclaim our lives, once and for all. This can be a moment of unity – for our country and the Conservative Party – as we look ahead with confidence, hope and optimism to a much brighter future.”
Another senior Tory backbencher, Robert Halfon, said the PM needed to “provide some kind of optimism to the public” over lockdown easing, but warned against people relaxing too soon.
The chair of the Education Select Committee told BBC Radio 4’s Westminster Hour: “I understand where [the Covid Recovery Group] are coming from and my heart has a lot of sympathy.
“I just don’t want a repetition of what went on last year where we thought we were over the worst and then we’re suddenly back in tiers of lockdown.”