Schools in the UK are to shut from Friday until further notice as a response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Schools will close except for looking after the children of keyworkers and vulnerable children, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said.
This academic year’s exams will not go ahead in England and Wales; decisions are due to be made in Scotland and Northern Ireland.
Nurseries, private schools and sixth forms are also being told to follow the guidance to close their doors.
Scotland and Wales earlier said schools would close from Friday while schools in Northern Ireland will close to pupils today and to staff on 23 March.
Questions had been asked about why the government had not moved to shut schools until now.
On Monday, the PM announced a series of new key measures to target the number of coronavirus cases after scientific modelling showed the UK was on course for a “catastrophic epidemic”.
As school closures were announced on Wednesday, Mr Johnson said: “We think now that we must apply further downward pressure with that upward curve by closing schools.”
He thanked teachers and head teachers and said that by looking after children of key workers, such as NHS staff, they “will be a critical part of the fight back” against coronavirus.
But he added that children “should not be left” with grandparents or others in groups vulnerable to contracting coronavirus.
It came as UK deaths reached 104 after a further 32 people died in England.
Confirmed cases in the UK rose to 2,626 on Wednesday, from 1,950 on Tuesday. There have been 56,221 tests carried out in the UK for Covid-19, of which 53,595 were confirmed negative.
Revealing the shutdown of schools in England, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson told MPs assessments or exams would not go ahead this year and performance tables would not be published.
But he said officials were working with exam boards “to ensure that children get the qualifications that they need”.
Schools have already been been preparing for a shut down for some time, with some creating homework packs or setting up ways of working online.
But there have been concerns about the ability of frontline NHS staff and others to remain in work if their children are not in school.
Chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty told BBC One’s new daily coronavirus update programme that school is “not dangerous” for children during the pandemic, but that the decision to close them would slow the rise of infections.
He said the government and its advisers were also keen to make it possible for the children of NHS staff to go to school.
The government says it plans to more than double the number of tests being carried out in England to 25,000 a day.
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