All schools in the United Kingdom will close from Friday, the country's education secretary has announced.
As coronavirus COVID-19 cases topped 2600 in the UK, it was revealed that educational institutes in Wales and Scotland would close at the end of this week, with no guarantee they would reopen before the British summer. Schools in England and Northern Ireland will now also shut up it has been announced.
Secretary of State for Education Gavin Williamson told the British House of Commons that authorities had been listening to advice about what was in the best interest of students and teachers. He said it was now time for schools across the nation to close. The illness is already impacting staffing levels and student attendance.
"The spike of the virus is increasing at a faster pace than anticipated," Williamson said.
"After schools shut their gates on Friday afternoon, they will remain closed until further notice. This will be for all children, except to those of key workers and children who are most vulnerable."
Williamson explained that key workers include NHS staff, police and delivery drivers. Vulnerable children are those with social workers or who have educational, health and care plans. He said scientific advice suggested it was safe for this small number of children to remain at school.
Just after Williamson's announcement, Prime Minister Boris Johnson urged anyone with symptoms to stay at home and stressed other guidelines he laid out on Tuesday (NZT). He warned against children being left with their grandparents when schools are shut, but acknowledged this may be difficult.
"Exams will not take place as planned in May and June, though we will make sure that pupils get the qualifications they need and deserve for their academic career," Johnson said.
Prince William's children Prince George and Princess Charlotte will now be home-schooled after their school in southwest London announced it was closing, The Sun reported.
Patrick Vallance, the government's chief scientific adviser, previously defended the policy before a parliamentary committee on Tuesday, saying that school closures were "on the table", but not a step the government should be taking at this time.
But Neil Ferguson, a professor of mathematical biology at Imperial College London, whose modelling of the spread of the coronavirus swayed the government's response, has said that closures would reduce the transmission of the disease.
The National Education Union said there was an "apparent contradiction" between banning mass gatherings and keeping schools open in a letter to the prime minister.
School leaders have already begun making contingency plans to ensure that vulnerable children and children of public sector workers will still be looked after if schools close.
Ruth Luzmore, a head-teacher in London, has closed her primary school to everyone but pupils whose parents who work for the police, fire service, or teachers at other schools which have not closed.
The Department for Education declined to say how many schools have closed.
On parliament's website, a petition calling on the government to shut schools and colleges has attracted more than 671,000 signatures.
Newshub / Reuters