In a statement this afternoon, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that UK schools were to close their doors on Friday "until further notice".
He said up to this point there had been a 'trade-off' where it was better to keep schools open as relatively safe environments where children and staff were at relatively low risk of catching the illness in a more serious form, while helping NHS and public service workers to carry on with their crucial jobs.
But Mr Johnson said now was the time to put further pressure on the upward curve of the number of cases of infection, something which was also being announced in Parliament by education secretary Gavin Williamson.
Mr Johnson added that schools will still be needed to make provision to help care for children of NHS staff and other key workers such as police, social carers and those in the food supply chain to keep services running. He said he would ask nurseries and private schools to do the same and provide financial support where needed, including offering school meals and vouchers to those eligible.
He also said that exams in May and June will not go ahead but added that those student will not miss out on gaining their qualifications.
Further measures will be put forward to help those parents who cannot go out to work as a result of caring for chiildren at home, reminding them that they should not leave them with older relatives in 'at risk' groups.
Mr Johnson thanked education staff for keeping schools running to this point and reinforced that looking after children of key workers will be vital in the fight against the disease as they prepare to go further and faster to slow its spread.
It was also explained that the move was now the right time to slow the spread and to help prevent intensive care units and ventilator beds being overwhelmed.
In response to the statement, Matthew Fell, CBI Chief UK Policy Director, said: “Difficult decisions are having to be made each day and people’s safety must always come first. Today’s 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.”