Boris Johnson vows schoolkids WILL return from March 8 after Sage scientists' warn reopening will push R rate above 1

BORIS Johnson has told ministers there will be no backsliding his goal of getting kids back to class from March 8 – despite a mutiny by Sage scientists.

The PM scrambled to calm jitters after two top boffins broke cover to issue gloomy warnings about the perils of easing lockdown.

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Sir Jeremy Farrar said Covid infections must be cut from the current 750,000 to just 9,000 “before we can think about lifting restrictions”.

While Prof John Edmunds said opening schools could push the R rate above 1, and some restrictions will be needed until Christmas.

Both sit on the committee of scientists that advise the PM on Covid, but broke cover on the same day.

Boris has vowed to publish his roadmap out of lockdown on February 22, and has promised to reopen schools from March 8 if possible.

Downing Street sources hit back at the Sage advisers – insisting the PM is still 100% committed to the March 8 target.

A Whitehall insider told The Sun: "Nothing in the PM's goal has changed. We will be studying the data next week and fingers crossed it will allow us to proceed as the PM has set out."

Furious Tory MPs slammed the scientists for trying to “move the goalposts” and urged the PM to stick to his guns on unlocking Britain.

Boris is under massive pressure to start unlocking Britain as the vaccination programme is going so well.

Nearly 13.5 million Brits have had the jab – a fifth of the entire adult population.

But despite the stonking rollout, Sage scientists have been touring TV and radio studios urging the PM to keep the lockdown going longer.

Sir Jeremy said: “It is not sensible to set a date when restrictions will be lifted.

“Those restrictions can and they will be lifted, but only when the data allows that to be true.

“Setting a date now, arbitrarily, for some (time) in March or April, frankly doesn’t make any sense.”

He said infection rates should plummet before No10 even thinks about easing restrictions.

He told the BBC: “Transmission is still incredibly high in the UK. If transmission were still at this level and we were not in lockdown, we would be going into lockdown.

"There are 750,000 people today in the UK infected, there’s still huge pressure on the NHS and on critical care in this country.

"We’ve made enormous progress – the UK deserves great credit for the science behind the vaccines and the rollout, (with) 30 million people now vaccinated in this country.

"But the transmission rate is incredibly high still and we’ve got to get it lower, we’ve got to get it – in my view – into the single thousands before we can possibly think of lifting restrictions."

His fiery intervention came just hours after Prof. Edmunds warned the country will not get back to normality until Christmas.

He said:  “If we opened up schools I think that the reproduction number would get close to 1, and possibly exceed one.

"If we opened them up completely – if we opened secondary schools and primary schools both at the same time – I suspect we’d be lucky to keep the reproduction number below 1.

"I think we have to do everything very gradually and see how it goes."

Even when lockdown is eased, the rule of six will need to be in force until Christmas, he warned.

He told ITV’s Peston Show: “We are going to have to be under some restrictions for some time.”

He said all Brits will need both their jabs before restrictions can be torn up totally.

And the PM’s official spokesman fuelled fears the reopening of schools could be delayed.

He said the roadmap out of lockdown will only be published “the week of February 22”, but that schools will need to be given two weeks notice to reopen.

This means they could reopen later if the roadmap gets delayed until later in the week.

But a group of 70 mutinous Conservative backbenchers warned they will not tolerate any more delay.

Former minister Steve Baker, deputy chairman of The Covid Recovery Group of lockdown-sceptic Tories, said the scientists are depressing locked-down Brits.

He fumed: "Having a full public debate is essential at this time but I fear senior scientists are failing to recognise their power to spread despair and despondency.

“Some seem to be floating untested hypotheses in the media.  Doing so is not science. It is the death of science.

“Perhaps worse, it brings scientists squarely into the political domain, something we would, I am sure, all like to avoid.

“I look forward to the Prime Minister’s 22 February roadmap out of restrictions so that we can all reclaim our lives once and for all.”

The group’s boss, Tory MP Mark Harper, warned: “The Prime Minister, vaccines minister and Health Secretary have all confirmed that the plan for lifting restrictions would come on February 22.

“It’s crucial we don’t backslide on this, not least because the Government has said it wants to give schools 2 weeks notice before they open, and – as the PM said – it is the ‘settled will’ of most MPs that pupils should be back in school on 8th March.”

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