Schools are to close from Friday, the government has announced.
In an emergency statement, Gavin Williamson, Secretary of State for Education, said that “the spike of the virus is increasng at a faster pace than anticipated” and that the time had now come to close schools.
He added that schools were finding it difficult to continue as normal, with many staff having to self-isolate.
The children of key workers – including NHS staff, the police and delivery drivers – and children who are vulnerable, will be able to stay.
Boris Johnson, announcing the dramatic move at the same time as the education secretary, said the objective was to slow the spread of the virus and the judgement was that this was the right time to do it.
“After schools shut their gates from Friday afternoon, they will be closed for most pupils until further notice,” the Prime Minister said.
“The objective is to slow the spread of the virus, we think that this is the right time.
“But we need health workers who are also parents to keep going to work.”
Johnson said he could not say how long the closure would be.
He said he was asking nurseries, private schools and further education colleges to follow suit and close.
The government would be providing vouchers for free school meals.
He added that GCSE and A-Level exams would not be taking place as planned in May and June, and would be rescheduled for another time.
Sir Patrick Vallance, the government’s chief scientific advisor, said he wanted to stress that schools were not dangerous places for children or teachers, but that the closure step will “knock down” transmission, and put some delay in the process.
Earlier today, it was announced that schools in Scotland and Wales would be closing on Friday, while schools in Northern Ireland would be closing with immediate effect.