Plans for ending the current lockdown restrictions are due to be unveiled later this month amid competing pressures to rescue sectors of the economy hit hardest by the pandemic while keeping new variants at bay.
While the full roadmap is yet to be revealed, details about how some of the measures might be relaxed have become clearer in recent days.
The prime minister said that while the overall number of cases remained high, the infection rate was starting to fall.
“I’m optimistic, I won’t hide if from you. I’m optimistic but we have to be cautious,” he told reporters during a visit to a vaccine manufacturing facility in Teesside on Saturday.
Scientists continue to urge caution over the easing of the current controls, with hundreds of deaths still being recorded daily.
But more than 60 Tory backbenchers have given their support to a letter to the prime minister insisting he commit to a firm timetable for ending restrictions.
They said schools “must” return early next month with pubs and restaurants opening in a “commercially viable manner” from Easter, with the end of April marking the final end of lockdown.
When might the current measures end?
Mr Johnson has said the soonest restrictions could begin to be eased and schools fully reopened is 8 March – a delay to the mid-February date some had hoped for when the latest lockdown was first announced at the beginning of January.
Lockdown restrictions in Scotland will remain in force until at least the end of February, Nicola Sturgeon has said.
The Welsh first minister, Mark Drakeford, has said lockdown there will continue for several more weeks.
And in Northern Ireland, First Minister Arlene Foster confirmed the lockdown would be extended to 5 March.
First to benefit from any loosening of the rules will likely be schools, which the government has said is their priority.
Schools in Scotland will return on a phased basis from 22 February subject to final confirmation next week.
Under the plan, if confirmed, all children under school age in early learning and childcare will return.
Pupils in Primary 1 to Primary 3 will also be allowed back into school, as will those in the senior phase of secondary school.
Wales is also looking at reopening schools in February, with the youngest pupils being prioritised if case numbers continue to fall.
However Mr Drakeford has warned they could close again if there was a resurgence of the disease.
In England, children are expected to be sent back to school around 8 March – with debate continuing over whether primary and secondary schools should go back at the same time.
Dominic Raab, the foreign secretary, has said the government is aiming to start reopening schools on that date although he would not be drawn on whether they would all be able go back at the same time amid reports that secondary schools could return a week later.
The prime minister has also declined to rule out extending the school term into the summer to allow for extra catch-up classes.
He is reported to be considering allowing schools in England to stay open for an extra fortnight in the summer.
That could result in the autumn half-term and Christmas breaks being extended by a week each.
In Northern Ireland, Ms Foster and Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill said it was not possible to give a definitive date for schools to return, with 8 March the “earliest” possible date.
Allowing people to socialise outdoors is another of the government’s early priorities as controls are eased.
There is speculation that from 8 March the rules may be relaxed sufficiently to allow people to meet one friend not within their household for a coffee on a park bench or picnic outside.
The Sunday Telegraph reported that mixing inside and larger gatherings will remain against the rules.
However Downing Street has refused to be drawn on reports suggesting that restrictions on meeting friends in a park could be among the first to be lifted once schools are back.
Pubs, bars and restaurants – many of them closed for the best part of a year – are keen for the economy to be unlocked.
One suggestion is that venues may be permitted to open but with alcohol sales restricted. Separate reports suggested venues could open as early as April but sales of beer, wine or spirits would only be permitted outside.
A government source told The Sun: “We will hopefully be sipping pints in the spring sunshine sooner rather than later.”
After the first lockdown, the hospitality indsutry was reopened but with strict new rules that included customers having to check in to a venue using a paper form or the NHS app and a ban on standing at the bar.
The government has not revealed its plan for reopening the sector but Mr Johnson has previously said that “going down the tiers in a national way” looked to be “better this time round”, suggesting businesses may be permitted to open in one go rather than in a staggered manner.
The immediate picture looks less promising for travel.
Grant Shapps, the transport secretary, has said it is still “too early” to book a holiday and that dreams of a domestic or international break should be shelved for now.
Mr Shapps also indicated that travel restrictions may not be eased until everyone in the UK – and potentially in overseas destinations – has had their coronavirus vaccinations.
Asked in an interview on BBC Breakfast what needs to change for travel restrictions to be lifted, he replied: “First of all, everybody having their vaccinations.”
Pressed on whether the rules will remain in place until that happens, he said “yes”.
“It depends on both the level of vaccination here and, critically, elsewhere.
“We’ve done 13 million-plus vaccinations, which is just more than the whole of the EU put together.
“So we’ll need to wait for other countries to catch up as well in order to be able to do that wider international unlock, because we can only control the situation here.”
Meanwhile, the UK government has said it will require travellers from “red list” countries to isolate for 10 days in a quarantine hotel at a cost of £1,750. Scotland is insisting that all arriving passengers, from any country, must do so.
Those arriving from countries not on the red list to the rest of the UK will stilll need to quarantime at home for 10 days and will also be required to take two tests at their expense.