Schools in Scotland and Wales will close in response to the coronavirus pandemic, with those in England widely expected to follow suit.
The Welsh Government said all schools will close for an early Easter break by Friday at the latest, just minutes before First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced schools in Scotland will also close by the end of the week.
It comes after Boris Johnson told MPs during Prime Minister’s Questions that further decisions on schools are “to be taken imminently”.
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson will update MPs at the same time as Boris Johnson gives his daily press conference at 5pm, when a decision is expected to be announced.
The Government has so far resisted calls to close schools due to the fact NHS workers are among those who may need to stay home and look after their children.
But head teachers have warned they are so short-staffed due to Covid-19 that they are struggling to stay open.
There is the possibility of some schools staying open for the pupils of key workers – which would include NHS staff.
Also in the Commons, Mr Johnson promised to protect private renters from eviction due to the spread of coronavirus as he said the Government was overseeing “unprecedented” steps to manage the crisis.
The Prime Minister said further measures would be introduced to protect the vulnerable and those who face job losses, adding: “This is a national emergency and we’re asking the public to do things, to take actions in a way that is really unprecedented for a government in peacetime and perhaps even unprecedented in the last century.”
During PMQs, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn pressed Mr Johnson on his plans for those who are renting.
Mr Johnson said: “I can indeed confirm that we will be bringing forward legislation to protect private renters from eviction, that is one thing we will do, but it is also important as we legislate that we do not simply pass on the problem, so we’ll also be taking steps to protect other actors in the economy.”
Mr Corbyn also questioned Mr Johnson on the amount of personal protective equipment (PPE) issued to NHS staff for when they are treating patients with Covid-19.
There have been reports of regional problems with supply of equipment, with some staff saying there are not enough face masks to go round.
Mr Corbyn also said measures to ramp up testing in the UK were not enough.
He said: “The World Health Organisation said test, test, test and we should be testing, I believe, on an industrial scale.”
The Labour leader said 10,000 tests per day is “nowhere near even the number of people working in the NHS and the care sector”, adding: “It is a massive undertaking and I wish there was a greater sense of urgency from the Government in getting this testing available for all staff.”
Mr Johnson said the NHS was now moving to carrying out 25,000 coronavirus tests per day – a new announcement.
He added: “There is a massive effort going on, comparable to the effort to build enough ventilators, to ensure that we have adequate supplies of PPE equipment not just now, but throughout the outbreak.”
On ventilator numbers, Mr Johnson said: “We already have 8,000, and we’re moving rapidly upwards.”
New #COVID19 guidance:▪️ If someone in your household has a new, continuous cough and/or high temperature, everyone in the household should stay at home for 14 days.Read the full guidance here: https://t.co/8i4f9JrdtK pic.twitter.com/srho0KOz0p
— Public Health England (@PHE_uk) March 17, 2020
In other developments:
– A third patient in Scotland diagnosed with Covid-19 has died.
– The FTSE 100 continued its downward slump with a more than 5% drop at about 9.30am on Wednesday, wiping around £68 billion off the value of London’s biggest companies.
– A baby has tested positive for Covid-19 at the James Paget University Hospital in Gorleston in Norfolk, the second reported UK case among infants.
– The youngest person to die in the UK to date has been named as 45-year-old Craig Ruston, who had motor neurone disease. He died on Monday after his chest infection was diagnosed as Covid-19.
– Filming on EastEnders and BBC Studios dramas including Casualty, Doctors, Holby City, Pobol y Cwm and River City will be postponed until further notice.
– Professor Neil Ferguson, of Imperial College London, one of the lead authors on a paper which predicted 250,000 people could die if the UK did not switch tactics, said he is self-isolating after developing symptoms of Covid-19.
– Sainsbury’s became the latest supermarket to announce measures to help the elderly and vulnerable as store shelves became severely depleted.
– Pubs and restaurants were told they will be allowed to be turned into takeaways to help provide food for people in self-isolation.
– Global confirmed cases of coronavirus have topped 200,000 worldwide, according to Johns Hopkins University.
During PMQs, Mr Corbyn thanked MPs for their “responsible approach” in sitting a “suitable distance apart to avoid cross-fertilisation of this horrible disease” but said people could not feed their families on “90-odd quid a week” sick pay.
This meant lives were put at risk as people went out to work to “put food on the table”, he said.
Mr Johnson said: “It’s only right that when we’re asking people to take action to isolate themselves, whether they have the disease or a member of their household has the disease, if we’re asking the public to take steps which jeopardise businesses, causes people to risk losing their jobs, it’s absolutely right that whatever their circumstances we should ensure workers get the support they need.
“So, in addition to the package of business support that the Chancellor outlined yesterday, we will be working with the unions, working with colleagues across the House, we will be bringing forward further measures to support workers of all kinds throughout this crisis.”
It comes after the Government was heavily criticised for failing to support the poorest members of society amid allegations the Chancellor’s £350 billion package did “nothing” to protect home renters and those on low incomes.
More events have also been cancelled across the UK, including the Glastonbury festival in June.