Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary, has said that everyone over 50 will be offered a vaccine by May.

While the timeframe is “tentative”, the announcement of a date is surprising given the government’s recent reluctance to stoke optimism about the end of lockdown.

It is believed that the relaxing of certain rules will also start on 8 March, when children begin to return to the classroom. Restrictions on outdoor socialising and sport are thought to be the first which will be relaxed, possibly within weeks of this date.

The PM wants the rules simplified (no more haggling over “substantial meals”) and has said he does not want to return to a regional tier system. Instead, a new set of indicators to assess the speed at which lockdown can be lifted in England is being drawn up.