Friday marks the last day at school for most children across the UK until further notice, in response to the escalating coronavirus outbreak.
Schools in England, Scotland and Wales will close on Friday to everyone except vulnerable children, and those with a parent identified as a key worker.
Schools in Northern Ireland will shut from Monday.
A-level and GCSE exams, and primary school Sats – usually taken in May and June – have been cancelled.
Most local governments have indicated schools may not reopen properly until the end of the summer.
The government has published a list of key workers whose children can still go to school if they cannot be looked after at home. These workers’ jobs are considered “critical” for the response to the pandemic.
The list has been separated into eight categories, including frontline health workers and social care staff, nursery and teaching staff and those involved in food production and delivery.
It also includes the police, those in key public services, transport workers and critical staff in financial services and utilities.
The list comes as an appeal is launched to ask more than 65,000 retired doctors and nurses in England and Wales to return to the NHS to help tackle the outbreak.
Meanwhile, the chancellor is set to announce a wage subsidy package to protect jobs later.
Who are “key workers”?
The full list includes:
- Frontline health workers such as doctors and nurses
- Some teachers and social workers
- Workers in key public services including those essential to the justice system, religious staff, and public service journalists
- Local and national government workers deemed crucial to delivering essential public services
- Workers involved in food production processing, distribution, sale and delivery
- Public safety workers including police, armed forces personnel, firefighters, and prison staff
- Essential air, water, road and rail transport workers
- Utilities, communication and financial services staff, including postal workers, and waste disposal workers
“If your work is critical to the Covid-19 response, or you work in one of the critical sectors listed below, and you cannot keep your child safe at home then your children will be prioritised for education provision,” the government said.
However it stressed that “every child who can be safely cared for at home should be” and asked workers to consult their employers to confirm whether “their specific role is necessary”.
Vulnerable children, who will also be exempt, include those who have a social worker and those with special educational needs. The Department for Education said it would help local authorities identify those “who most need support at this time”.
The government has encouraged local authorities to keep residential special schools and specialist colleges open wherever possible.
School leaders said the list of key workers was “perhaps more extensive than we might have expected”.
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said schools will be doing all they can so pupils who need to can still turn up to school after the weekend – but that more strategic planning will be needed in future, due to reduced staffing levels.
Confusion continues over how grades will be awarded in the light of the decision to cancel this summer’s exam season.
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson has indicated guidance will be issued on Friday, adding the government would work with schools, colleges and England’s exams regulator, Ofqual, “to ensure children get the qualifications they need”.
Retired medics appeal
Meanwhile, Health Secretary Matt Hancock has said he hoped “many, many thousands will respond” to letters being sent to former doctors and nurses in England and Wales asking them to rejoin the NHS.
In Scotland, anyone who left the medical profession during the past three years has also been asked to consider returning.
Senior officials have said the ex-employees are needed to boost frontline services.
Asked when the former medics would be able to start, Mr Hancock told BBC Breakfast those who left most recently could return “straight away”, while others will be given refresher training “over the next couple of weeks”.
Conservative MP Maria Caulfield, a former nurse, has said she will swap Westminster for the hospital ward – tweeting that it is “important we all help where we can”.
It comes as the government pledged to ensure that all hospitals have enough protective gear and ventilators, following concern workers were being put at risk by shortages.
Mr Hancock said 150 lorries had been dispatched overnight to get the equipment to about half the UK’s hospitals, and pledged a lorry load would be sent to each before next week.
Asked about the number of ventilators in the UK, Mr Hancock said “no number is too big” and the government’s appeal for manufacturers to make ventilators had received “thousands” of responses, including from Formula One.
Mr Hancock also responded to an emotional video appeal from a critical care nurse, asking people to stop panic-buying and leave goods for medical staff. The health secretary suggested supermarkets could consider dedicating a specific hour to key workers.
Elsewhere, the chancellor’s wage package, due to be unveiled later on Friday, is the latest in a string of big fiscal attempts to ease the burden on businesses and their employees.
Many firms are warning of collapse, wiping out thousands of jobs, as life in the UK is largely put on hold.
In other key developments in the UK:
- 144 people with the virus have died, and 3,269 people have tested positive for Covid-19.
- Trials of a coronavirus vaccine could begin within the next month, Public Health England has said
- Military leaders have been told by the head of the armed forces to be ready by the middle of next month to help respond to the pandemic, in guidance seen by the BBC
- Ministers are asking phone operators if they can use mobile data to help monitor whether people are following social distancing advice
- Train operators across Britain will gradually reduce services from Monday
- Jaguar Land Rover, is to join Nissan and Vauxhall in suspending production at its UK plants
- The Bank of England has cut interest rates from 0.25% to 0.1% – the lowest level in its history.
- The Catholic Church in Britain will suspend public masses from Friday evening until further notice
In other key developments around the world:
- Italy’s death toll rose by 427 to 3,405, overtaking China’s toll
- Argentina has become the first country in South America to ban all citizens from leaving their homes except to buy food and medicines
- An estimated 400 British nationals are among those stranded in Peru, after the country closed its borders and flights were suspended
- California, the most populous US state, has issued a “stay at home” order to residents
- Globally, the number of confirmed cases has passed 220,000, with more than 9,000 deaths
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