Boris Johnson has said it is “much better” to stick to the “prudent and cautious” approach to reopening schools so the plan to beat the pandemic is not “forced into reverse”.

The prime minister was challenged during today’s Downing Street briefing on his plans to wait to reopen schools until March 8 at the earliest. Pressure has been mounting after Scotland announced schools will start reopening on February 22.

Johnson said he shared the “urgency” of people who want to “go faster”, but he said March 8 was a “prudent date to set”.

“What we don’t want to do now we’re making progress with the vaccination roll out and we have a timetable for the way ahead, we don’t want to be forced into reverse.

“So, we think this is the prudent and cautious approach. It’s much better to stick to that.”

He added he was “very hopeful” of meeting the March 8 date, which has been set as it is three weeks after the vaccination of the first four priority groups is due to finish. Johnson said three weeks will allow the “vaccination immunity to be acquired”.

Government chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty also told the briefing that Covid infection rates were coming down but were still “incredibly high”, and said the closure of schools was still a “very important” part of the government’s efforts.

“If we were to start to take off again from the very high levels we are at the moment, the NHS would get back into trouble extraordinarily fast,” he warned.