The end of England’s lockdown will not happen with a “big bang” but will instead be a “gradual unwrapping”, Boris Johnson has told MPs.

The prime minister made the comments in the Commons ahead of a retrospective vote on the lockdown measures later.

He said the legislation runs until 31 March to allow a “controlled” easing of restrictions back into local tiers.

He also said the UK was in a “sprint” to vaccinate the vulnerable faster than the virus can reach them.

All of the UK is now under strict virus curbs, with Wales, Northern Ireland and most of Scotland also in lockdown.

On Tuesday the number of new daily confirmed cases of Covid in the UK topped 60,000 for the first time.

Mr Johnson said the new variant had “led to more cases than we’ve seen ever before” and that this had left the government with “no choice but to return to national lockdown”.

He said the legislation ran until the end of March “not because we expect the full national lockdown to continue until then, but to allow a steady, controlled and evidence-led move down through the tiers on a regional basis”.

He said this would happen “brick-by-brick… without risking the hard-won gains that protections have given us.”

“And as was the case last spring, our emergence from the lockdown cocoon will be not a big bang but a gradual unwrapping”, he said.

The restrictions will be kept under “continuous review”, he added, with a statutory requirement to reconsider them every two weeks.

Addressing the closure of schools, the PM said “we did everything in our power to keep them open as long as possible” and that was why schools were the “very last thing to close.”

They would be the “very first thing to reopen” after lockdown – that could be after the February half term but “we must be very cautious” about the timetable, he said.