Schools across the UK to be shut from Friday amid coronavirus epidemic

Schools in England and Northern Ireland will be shut from Friday 'until further notice', it has been confirmed.

Earlier today the same measures were announced in Scotland and Wales as the coronavirus pandemic continues to spread across the UK.

Boris Johnson has urged parents not to leave their children with grandparents who could be more susceptible to Covid-19.

Some schools will remain open and Mr Johnson said the exemption for key workers is to keep the NHS going.

Speaking in the House of Commons Gavin Williamson confirmed that the rest of the UK will likewise be closed from Friday with the Easter break brought forward in an attempt to minimise disruption to the school year.

Mr Williamson said: "I know the situation has become increasingly challenging.

"I've said before that if the science and the advice changed, such that keeping schools open would no longer be in the best interest of children and teachers, that we would act – we are now at that stage."

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Mr Williamson said: "The spike of the virus is increasing at a faster pace than anticipated and it is crucial that we continue to consider the right measures to arrest this increase and to relieve the pressure on the health system.

"The public health benefits of schools remaining open as normal are shifting.

"It is also clear that schools are increasingly finding it more difficult to continue as normal as illness and self-isolation impacts on staffing levels and pupil attendance."

He added: "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 where children who are most vulnerable.

"The scientific advice shows that the settings are safe for this small number of children to continue attending. But asking others to stay away will go towards helping us slow the spread of this virus.

"Some examples of these key workers include NHS staff, police and delivery drivers who need to be able to go to work. vulnerable children including those who have a social worker and those with educational health and care plans.

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"Looking after these children will enable schools to support the country through this incredibly and extremely challenging time."

Exams and assessments will also be scrapped for this academic term.

The Government has so far resisted calls to close schools due to the fact NHS workers are among those who may need to stay home and look after their children.

But head teachers warned they were so short-staffed due to Covid-19 that they were struggling to stay open.

Speaking at a press conference at the same time as the Education Secretary was addressing MPs Boris Johnson spoke about 'downward pressure' on the spread of the coronavirus.

He said: "We must apply further downward pressure on that upward curve by closing the schools".

He also warned that children should not be left with older relatives or friends while the schools are shut.

Here are your rights to emergency time off work if your child's school is closed.

Mr Johnson said the Government would try to keep the duration of school closures to an "absolute minimum" and intended to "get things going again as fast as we can".

Sir Patrick said closing schools would help reduce transmission – though stressed that children are not getting the serious form of the illness.

He said: "This is about the measure to protect all of us, it's not a measure because there is some specific risk to children."

Today the death toll in the UK reached 104 – and that number is expected to rise in the coming days and weeks.

Labour leadership favourite Sir Keir Starmer, responding to the announcement that schools are to close, said: "We must support social distancing measures that protect the nation's health from coronavirus, but we must recognise that the closure of schools across the UK will raise major challenges for families across the country.

"Many families rely on grandparents for support with childcare. Coronavirus makes that impossible for many.

"The Government must step in and support families who now face a choice between losing income because there is no childcare available or paying crippling childcare costs.

"The Government must put a clear plan in place to ensure our children can continue to learn whilst away from school, stay safe and keep mentally and physically healthy.

"Those who are having important exams cancelled need to know it will not deny them opportunities in the future.

"The loss of free school meals risks millions of children going hungry, and for some this means missing their only hot meal of the day. Schools are pillars of our communities and may need to be reimagined during this period, so that those with additional needs get the support they need."

Stormont First Minister Arlene Foster confirmed schools would be shut on Monday and could be closed until summer.

Mrs Foster said "The societal and economic impact of this measure will be enormous."

She said the closures were "unplanned and long-term".

"This is unprecedented."

In response to schools being closed across the UK, Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders' union NAHT, said the country faces a "truly unprecedented and grave situation".

He said: "The government has explained to us that the decision taken about schools today, led by the scientific and health advice, will balance the need to restrict access to schools with continuing to provide some important functions to maintain the fabric of society.

"This is part of the state-wide response to this crisis. I know that the education sector wants to do all that it can to support the country.

When should you call NHS 111?

Those experiencing coronavirus symptoms, such as a cough or fever, should self-isolate for 14 days.

You should stay at home if you or or anyone in your household has a high temperature or a new and continuous cough – even if it's mild.

  • Everyone in your household must stay at home for 14 days and keep away from others
  • DO NOT go to your GP or hospital.
  • Go to NHS.UK to check your symptoms and follow the specialist medical advice.
  • Only call 111 if you can't get online, you feel like you can't cope at home, or your symptoms do not get better after the seven days.
  • If you are pregnant you should call 111 if you have any concerns about yourself or unborn baby during self-isolation.
  • Pregnant women are advised to contact their midwife, out-of-hours helplines or a maternity team who will provide information on whether you need to go to hospital.

"The government has changed what it expects schools to do. They are to offer reduced access in order to prioritise the needs of the most vulnerable young people and the children of key workers.

"Today's decision is a vote of confidence in how schools have responded so far. Schools can be confident they are doing a good job.

"Now, they should also be entitled to expect the necessary support from other organisations with civic responsibilities."

In other developments:

– A third patient in Scotland diagnosed with Covid-19 has died.

– The FTSE 100 continued its downward slump with a more than 5% drop at about 9.30am on Wednesday, wiping around £68 billion off the value of London's biggest companies.

– A baby has tested positive for Covid-19 at the James Paget University Hospital in Gorleston in Norfolk, the second reported UK case among infants.

– The youngest person to die in the UK to date has been named as 45-year-old Craig Ruston, who had motor neurone disease. He died on Monday after his chest infection was diagnosed as Covid-19.

– Filming on EastEnders and BBC Studios dramas including Casualty, Doctors, Holby City, Pobol y Cwm and River City will be postponed until further notice.

– Professor Neil Ferguson, of Imperial College London, one of the lead authors on a paper which predicted 250,000 people could die if the UK did not switch tactics, said he is self-isolating after developing symptoms of Covid-19.

– Sainsbury's became the latest supermarket to announce measures to help the elderly and vulnerable as store shelves became severely depleted.

– Pubs and restaurants were told they will be allowed to be turned into takeaways to help provide food for people in self-isolation.

– Global confirmed cases of coronavirus have topped 200,000 worldwide, according to Johns Hopkins University.

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