UK schools ordered to shut down indefinitely as virus fight continues
All schools across the United Kingdom will be shut by the end of the week in a bid to control the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Following announcements earlier that schools in Scotland and Wales would be shutting on March 20, authorities in Northern Ireland said their schools would not reopen after Wednesday, and finally Education Secretary Gavin Williamson announced schools in England would also close.
"After schools shut their gates on Friday afternoon, they will remain closed until further notice," Williamson said, adding that there would be exemptions made for children of workers in key jobs, such as the emergency services and food supply chain, to enable the parents to continue to work.
While he was telling this to Parliament, Prime Minister Boris Johnson was addressing the media on the same topic.
"Children and young people are less vulnerable, and hitherto advice has been to keep schools open if possible," he said. "Looking at the curve (of virus spread) and where we are now, we think now we must apply downward pressure, further downward pressure on the upward curve by closing schools. The objective is to slow the spread of the virus and we judge that this is the right moment to do that."
Earlier, when she announced the policy, Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said she could not guarantee that schools would reopen again this academic year.
"The clearest guidance I can give is that schools and nurseries will not reopen after the Easter break. At this stage, I cannot promise that they will reopen before the summer holidays," she said.
Wales's education minister, Kirsty Williams, said she was bringing forward the start of the Easter holidays to allow school premises to be put to other use.
"They will help support those most in need, including people involved in the immediate response to the coronavirus outbreak," she explained.
The school closure announcements came as the UK's infection rate rose to 2,626 confirmed cases, with 32 more deaths announced since Tuesday, taking the total to 104.
Earlier, the editor of leading British medical journal The Lancet said "valuable time" had been lost in the country's response to the outbreak and as a result "there will be deaths that were preventable".
Writing in the Guardian newspaper, Richard Horton, who is a doctor, said the government response was now correct but the system had failed.
"When we have suppressed this epidemic, when life returns to some semblance of normality, difficult questions will have to be asked and answered," he wrote. "Because we can't afford to fail again. We may not have a second chance."
Before that, 24 hours after special measures for businesses and homeowners were announced, Johnson told the House of Commons he would be taking action to prevent renters from being evicted in a situation that was "unprecedented in peacetime and unprecedented in the last century".
The Governor of the Bank of England Andrew Bailey backed government plans by saying the institution will do whatever is necessary to help the economy through "unparalleled" times that will result in a "very big" economic downturn.
"We will do what it takes to meet the needs of the economy and the needs of the people of this country," he said. "That's our duty frankly. We will meet that duty … everything is on the table that is reasonable, within the policy tool set."
The BBC has also announced a package of new public service broadcasting initiatives, including enhanced news services, making special educational programming, and using local radio stations to coordinate help for the elderly and vulnerable. Also, the BBC Food website is to be changed to provide recipes for meals using household basics.
This comes after two of the country's biggest supermarkets, Sainsbury's and Tesco, announced customers would be limited to purchasing three of any one item, or in the case of products such as long-life milk, two, to prevent unnecessary panic buying.
"We have enough food coming into the system, but are limiting sales so that it stays on shelves for longer and can be bought by a larger numbers of customers," Sainsbury's Chief Executive Mike Coupe told Sky News.
Online grocery delivery service Ocado has taken down its entire website until the weekend in order to work out how to deal with increased demand.
To add the air of anxiety around so many people adapting to working from home, users of mobile phone network EE experienced difficulties making calls, although the company insisted this was down to technical problems affecting another network.
"Work is being done to resolve this as soon as possible. This is not related to the increase in home working, caused by (novel) coronavirus," said a statement by EE.
One of the summer's biggest public music and arts gatherings, the Glastonbury Festival at the end of June, has been called off.
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