Schools across the UK will close from Friday until further notice, the education secretary has announced.
Speaking in the House of Commons, Gavin Williamson also confirmed that exams and assessments would not be held this academic year.
He told MPs: “I want to provide parents, students and staff with the certainty they need.
“After schools shut their gates on Friday afternoon, they will remain closed until further notice.
“This will be for all children, except for those of key workers and children who are most vulnerable.
“The scientific advice shows that the settings are safe for this small number of children attending, but asking others to stay will just go towards helping us slow the spread of this virus.”
Mr Williamson said examples of key workers include NHS staff, police and delivery drivers.
He added nurseries, Sixth Forms, further education colleges, independent schools and boarding schools were expected to follow the same approach.
At a Downing Street news conference, Prime Minister Boris Johnson
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said that childcare support would also be available for social care workers.
The Welsh government said all schools will close for an early Easter break by Friday at the latest, while First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said Scottish schools will also close by the end of the week.
Northern Ireland First Minister Arlene Foster confirmed that schools would be shut on Monday and could be closed until summer in “unprecedented” action.
Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, welcomed Mr Williamson’s announcement on Wednesday.
He said: “It is better for this to take place in an ordered way than the chaotic pattern of closures that was developing.
“We also welcome the clarity that SATs, GCSE, AS- and A-Level exams are to be cancelled.
“This offers some degree of reassurance to teachers, their students and parents.
“We note that, at this time of emergency, the government has decided that teacher assessment is indeed a good method of giving reliable information about young people’s progress and achievements.
“We will return to that when this crisis is over.
“Now, more than anything else the government needs to concentrate on ensuring that children in food poverty are fed properly – these children are not just those on free school meals.”
Teachers, head teachers and unions had warned that many schools are so short-staffed that they are struggling to remain open.
Chris Edwards, headteacher of Brighton Hill Community School in Basingstoke, told Sky News earlier: “I feel like occasionally I am putting staff in harm’s way asking them to teach in crowded classrooms.
“Equally for the students, they’ve got to be our number one priority – at the end of the day we are here for the students and we always will be and if we are told that it stays open, we will continue to stay open, if we feel that’s what’s best for the welfare of the children.
“This is where many of them feel safest, and that’s a big responsibility.”
More than 600,000 people had signed a parliamentary petition calling for schools and colleges to be closed due to the coronavirus pandemic.