Schools across the UK are to close to all pupils except those of key workers in a bid to halt the spread of Covid-19, Boris Johnson has said.
Schools in England will close their gates on Friday until further notice, alongside nurseries, childminders and colleges.
GCSEs and A-levels in England will also be cancelled – although there are plans for students to receive the qualifications they need, Mr Johnson said.
The Welsh Government said all schools will close for an early Easter break by Friday at the latest, but said childcare settings are expected to remain open for now.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced schools and nurseries in Scotland will also close by the end of the week. A decision on whether exams will sit in Scotland has not yet been taken.
Northern Ireland has closed schools and does not expect pupils to sit summer exams.
Mr Johnson urged parents not to leave children in the care of grandparents or older relatives who are at higher risk of becoming seriously ill with coronavirus.
He said meals and vouchers would be provided for pupils who currently receive free school lunches, but said “exams will not take place as planned in May and June”.
To date, 104 people have died after testing positive for coronavirus in the UK.
Mr Johnson said measures taken so far were helping to slow the spread of the disease, but there may be a need for stronger action further down the line.
He said schools had been under “constant review” but now was the time to apply “further downward pressure” on the upward curve of the virus by closing schools.
The objective is to slow down the spread of Covid-19, but there is still a need for NHS workers to continue to go to work, as well as police officers, supermarket delivery drivers and social care workers looking after the elderly, he said.
More details will be released soon, but these are the groups whose children will still be able to go to school, alongside vulnerable children.
Meanwhile, in the Commons, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson confirmed that assessments and examinations such as GCSEs and A-levels will not take place in the current academic year.
He said: “I can confirm that we will not go ahead with assessments or exams and that we will not be publishing performance tables for this academic year.
“We will work with the sector and Ofqual to ensure that children get the qualifications that they need.”
Mr Williamson told MPs: “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.”
In other developments:
– Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick said the Government will introduce emergency legislation to suspend new evictions from social or private rented accommodation “during this national emergency”.
– Some hospitals began stopping all non-essential visits to patients.
– Princess Beatrice cancelled her wedding reception, but plans to wed at the Chapel Royal on May 29 in a private ceremony.
– 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 and had tested positive for 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.
– Global confirmed cases of coronavirus have topped 200,000 worldwide, according to Johns Hopkins University.
Mr Williamson said the scientific advice showed schools and nurseries were safe for a small number of children to continue attending.
He said vulnerable children included those who have a social worker and those with educational health and care plans.
Mr Johnson said he realised that closing schools would be “frustrating” for many parents and it will “make it harder for them to go out to work”.
He said further measures were being worked on to support individuals and their families to help keep the economy going.
He said testing for Covid-19 was being “massively” scaled up to hit 25,000 tests a day, and a “huge public information campaign” was being launched.
Retired health professionals were also being asked to return to help the NHS with this “unprecedented challenge”, Mr Johnson said.
A “game-changer” test to determine whether an individual has developed antibodies to tackle the coronavirus is “coming down the track”, he added.
“The great thing about having a test to see whether you’ve had it enough, is suddenly a green light goes on above your head and you can go back to work in the safe and confident in the knowledge that you are most unlikely to get it again.
“So from an economic point of view, from a social point of view, it really could be a game-changer.”
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”.
The Government’s chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance said closing schools would help reduce transmission, but stressed that children are not getting the serious form of the illness.
He urged people to continue with social distancing and staying at home if they have symptoms or a household member does, adding: “When we don’t adhere to this we are actually putting lots of people at risk.”
He said people should view the Government’s latest guidelines as “a really clear instruction” – not merely advice.
Mr Johnson said it was “strong advice” – but added: “We do not rule out taking further and faster measures in due course.”