Published: 17:26, 18 March 2020
| Updated: 20:17, 18 March 2020
Schools in Kent and the rest of England have been ordered to close on Friday afternoon amid a surge in coronavirus cases.
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson confirmed the news during a statement in House of Commons, in what marks a U-turn in government policy.
KMTV with the latest as schools ordered to close
The decision comes amid a sharp rise in Covid-19 cases with 104 deaths now confirmed in the UK.
Mr Williamson said all schools in England will close on Friday afternoon - except to those children whose parents are key workers like NHS staff, police, and delivery drivers who "need to be able to go to work" and children who are "most vulnerable".
He told MPs: "The spike of the virus is increasing at a faster pace than anticipated and it is crucial we continue to consider the right measures to to relieve the pressure on the health system.
"The public health benefits of keeping schools remaining open as normal are shifting.
"It is also clear that schools are finding it increasingly more difficult to continue as normal as illness and self-isolation impacts on staffing levels and pupil attendance.
"After schools shut their gates on Friday afternoon they will remain closed until further notice.
"This will be for all children - except to those of key workers and where children are most vulnerable."
Mr Williamson said looking after those children will help schools to support the country through "this incredibly and extremely challenging time".
Boris Johnson called on nurseries and private schools to do the same and offered financial support to make this possible.
He added: "By looking after the children of key workers they will be a vital part of the fightback against coronavirus."
He also confirmed exams would not take place in May and June, but said the government would ensure pupils would the qualifications they deserved from their academic careers.
Reacting to the government's school closures decision, Matt Dunkley, Kent County Council's corporate director for children, young people and education, said: "Head teachers will now communicate with parents and carers to let them know what arrangements are in place for their school and we will continue to update families via the county council and individual school websites.
"We are already liaising with the Kent Association of Headteachers, and our partner agencies, to explore ways that teachers who are fit to work can help to support vulnerable learners and the children of key workers during term time.
"We are also looking into the possibility of putting some school buildings into use during the school holidays.
"We will continue to develop these plans in response to the government's announcement.
"These discussions are in the very early stages and more information will be released as it becomes available.
"We anticipate that more detailed information, including around examinations, will be released by the government in due course.
"We appreciate this is an uncertain time and that many families will be worried but we would like to reassure them that the measures have been introduced to protect all members of our community.
"We would ask all families to continue to monitor the latest guidance from Public Health England, the NHS, and the Department of Health and Social Care and to follow the basic hygiene and safety advice issued by these organisations as this is the most effective way to keep your loved ones safe."
Meanwhile, Mr Johnson called upon retired healthcare professionals to come back and help the NHS at this difficult time.
In Kent, 25 cases of the virus have been confirmed, four of which are in Medway.
Across the UK more than 2,600 people have been infected with the virus leading to 72 deaths - with the government's chief scientific adviser earlier saying 20,000 coronavirus fatalities would be a "good outcome" given the seriousness of the outbreak.