Schools in Lancashire will close on Friday 'until further notice' as GCSE exams are scrapped - but some children will still attend
Schools in England will close on Friday “until further notice” for the majority of pupils, the Government announced this evening.
Only the children of ‘key workers’ – the likes of NHS medics, social workers, police officers, and supermarket delivery drivers – and vulnerable youngsters with social workers will attend classes.
Nurseries and colleges will also be asked to shut down, with financial help offered, while there are plans to feed those who get free school meals, Boris Johnson said.
“I know these steps will not be easy for parents or teachers,” he said.
Exams in May and June will not be held, the Prime Minister told a daily coronavirus briefing, but said youngsters would still receive the qualifications they need.
He said: “We will continue, as we have from the beginning, to do the right thing at the right time. The objective is to slow the spread of the virus, and we judge now is the right moment to do that.”
A number of Lancashire schools had already been forced to close or partially close because self-isolating teachers led to unsafe staffing levels.
Schools in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland will also shut.
Across the UK, 1,950 people have tested positive for Covid-19, with four in Blackpool, 15 in Lancashire and 157 across the north west.
However, the real figure is thought to be higher than 55,000, with tests only being done in hospital.
Some 104 people have died after testing positive for the virus in the UK.
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 get free school lunches.
The county council said it would follow the Government's advice.
Executive director for education and children's services, Edwina Grant, said: "Our priority is always to safeguard the health and wellbeing of Lancashire's residents, including the pupils and staff at our schools.
"I understand that this is a really difficult situation, and that there will be disruption due to the schools being closed, apart from a small number of children, but I hope that parents and carers realise that this is a precautionary measure to prevent the spread of infection.
"We continue to work closely with colleagues in the NHS and Public Health England to do everything we can to stop the virus spreading and protect people in Lancashire."
Leyland mum Kimberley Badat owns fitness studio AK Active in Lostock Hall, which she relaunched with her husband Adam last year.
She said: "I feel mixed emotions. It was inevitably going to happen because of the spread.
"It will impact businesses a lot. It's going to be a difficult time for everyone.
"We're going to put some of our services online but we'll struggle to keep the studio open.
"I can't knock groups offering free fitness sessions but it will cause us even more strain. We just need people to support small, local businesses."
"Also, if people aren't earning, that's when it becomes a problem."
The personal trainers will offer online exercise classes, nutrition advice, live cooking sessions and interactive family events like quizzes.
Kimberley added: "I completely understand why the Government has decided to close schools. It was only a matter of time.
"My daughter's school has done really well and they have put some school work online over the past few days. So we know she'll be able to do her homework and she won't suffer."
But Kimberley is worried about the impact of closing the studio and self-isolating on some of her AK Active members.
"For some of our members, coming to the studio was their saviour. It makes them feel like part of a family," she said.
"If you suffer from anxiety and depression, you can feel lost. If AK shuts down, I'd fear for my members. We love them dearly and want to help them."
Union leaders have called on the Government to ensure that working parents get paid parental leave when their child's school or nursery closes because of the coronavirus outbreak.
The TUC said many parents are already having to take time off work to care for children, or could feel forced to ask grandparents to help out with childcare.
The union body warned that working women will be hard hit because they bear a disproportionate share of caring responsibilities, and that single-parent families are especially vulnerable.
TUC general secretary Frances O'Grady said: "As schools and nurseries close, lots of mums and dads will have no choice but to take time off work. They must be guaranteed paid parental leave.
"We can't allow the coronavirus outbreak to push families into poverty. No-one should be out of pocket for doing the right thing. Paying parents and subsidising wages for short-time working help keep our economy moving too.
"The Government must do whatever it takes to protect working families."
Matthew Fell, the CBI's chief UK policy director, said: "The announcement on school closures feels necessary, but of course will present challenges for parents and carers.
"Businesses will do all they can to help their employees in these unprecedented times.
"Companies will make every effort to offer flexible working, but many parents simply won't be able to do their jobs and care for their children at the same time.
"With so many businesses already struggling with cashflow, government will urgently need to step in with additional support to employees who are unable to work because of school closures."
Hannah Essex, of the British Chambers of Commerce, said: "Businesses will want to do the right thing as parents and carers are affected by school closures.
"Firms are introducing flexible working arrangements wherever possible to support employees with caring responsibilities, but cashflow issues mean many businesses are having to make impossible choices.
"Government should clarify the definition of 'key workers' to ensure it is doing everything possible to support both the economy and those who need to care for others. Ministers need to move faster to ensure financial support reaches businesses and employees facing the real-world impacts of this pandemic."
Peter Cheese, chief executive of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, said: "The Government's decision to close schools will have a massive impact on working parents.
"Employers must accept that there will be disruption and that working parents will struggle to be as productive as normal.
"Employers need to make allowances for this and take a flexible approach, especially for people with younger children who will inevitably need more care."
Sophie Walker, chief executive of Young Women's Trust, said: "We desperately need an emergency response to the disproportionate impact this will have on women, many of whom have no job protection or sick pay owing to their reliance on part-time and precarious contracts that fit around their care responsibilities.
"They will be hit hardest by the loss of work and earnings as they now stay home to look after their children around the clock."