Boris Johnson has said he wants the current nationwide coronavirus lockdown “to be the last”.
But he almost immediately added that he could give no guarantee that he would not have to introduce restrictions for a fourth time, as ministers battle the coronavirus global pandemic.
Mr Johnson is under pressure from Tory MPs and others to change the rules quickly, after the government announced at the weekend that it had now vaccinated more than 15 million people.
While the milestone was an “unprecedented national achievement” it was “no moment to relax”, he said.
At the press conference in Downing Street he said he hoped “there is not that much longer to go now” but he added that the threat from the virus remained “very real.”
Next Monday he is due to unveil a road map setting out how the UK will return to normality, expected to start with the return of children to school.
Mr Johnson urged the public to be “optimistic but also patient” about the situation.
The Prime Minister said: “We want this lockdown to be the last. And we want progress to be cautious but also irreversible.”