Boris Johnson is examining whether some lockdown measures could be lifted once the highest priority groups have been vaccinated as he came under pressure to reopen England’s schools.

The Prime Minister said the Government was “looking at the potential of relaxing some measures” but refused to guarantee that pupils would return to classes before Easter.

His comments come as a surprise as Health Secretary Matt Hancock suggested on Sunday any relaxation was a “long, long way” off.

Speaking to reporters on a visit to a vaccination site at Barnet Football Club in north London, Mr Johnson said ministers were looking at infection rates and progress in vaccinating the top priority groups, which are expected to be completed by mid-February.

“But before then we’ll be looking at the potential of relaxing some measures,” he said.

Downing Street aides insisted Mr Johnson meant February 15 was the earliest point at which any of the rules could be changed, not before.

Mr Johnson stressed he would not do anything that could risk a surge in cases as he declined to commit to a timetable for the return of schools.

“I do think now this massive achievement has been made of rolling out this vaccination programme, I think people want to see us making sure we don’t throw that away by having a premature relaxation and then another big surge of infection,” he said.

“I totally understand the frustrations of parents, I really thank teachers for what they’re doing, the immense efforts they’re going to to teach kids online and the Government has provided a lot of laptops … I know that’s no substitute for direct face-to-face learning.

“Believe me, there’s nothing I want to do more than reopen schools, I’ve fought to keep schools open for as long as I possibly could.

“We want to see schools back as fast as possible, we want to do that in a way that is consistent with fighting the epidemic and keeping the infection rate down.”

Mr Johnson’s comments came as he faced pressure from senior Tories to allow pupils to return to class.

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson is widely expected to confirm this week that there will be no return to the classroom after the February half-term break as ministers had hoped.