Boris Johnson has outlined measures which stop short of closing schools but warned that parents could need to take time off to look after their youngsters at home.
The Prime Minister introduced new measures to try to protect the elderly and vulnerable, saying anyone with coronavirus symptoms, however mild, such as a continuous cough or high temperature, must now stay at home for seven days.
The advice also applies to children, meaning parents could need to take time off to look after their youngsters at home.
The PM said school trips abroad should be stopped, while people over 70 with serious medical conditions should not go on cruises.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaking at a news conference inside 10 Downing Street after the latest Cobra meeting to discuss the government’s response to coronavirus (Image: PA)
Other concerns include some parents who work in the NHS being absent from the healthcare service at a time of great need, and the potential exposure of grandparents to the disease if they are drafted in to look after sick children.
The decision not to close schools in Great Britain and Northern Ireland came on the same day as the Republic of Ireland announced that schools and colleges there will close for a fortnight from Thursday evening, as part of their measures to tackle the Covid-19 outbreak.
Museums, galleries and other tourist destinations in the Republic of Ireland will also close as a result of the action.
But there are no plans for this to happen in the UK currently.
In a press conference yesterday Boris Johnson declared the pandemic the ‘worst public health crisis in a generation’.
The UK formally moved from the ‘containment’ phase to the ‘delay’ phase.
An expert has said closing schools could increase the risks for elderly grandparents and reduce the number of NHS workers available for the frontline fight against coronavirus.
Keith Neal, emeritus professor of the epidemiology of infectious diseases at the University of Nottingham, said it was still too early to say whether steps taken in Ireland were a “sensible precaution or an overreaction for the current stage of the epidemic”.
He added: “Different countries are at different stages of the epidemic so what one country should do will not apply to others. We need to be guided by the local epidemiology and the science.
Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson reveals that all major sporting events could be cancelled.
“This is why currently the UK has not followed these measures. Schools will close soon for the Easter holidays which will give some idea of the impact of this measure. Parents have already planned for childcare during these weeks.
“Closing schools has a number of known consequences. It might make the epidemic or ability to manage the consequences worse.”
He said closing schools could lead to a reduction in the health and social care workforce as people have to look after children.
It could also lead to an increase in grandparents delivering childcare.
“This age group is at much greater risk,” he said.
He added that closing schools may lead to the increased movement of children to different places across the UK.
“Children do not seem to get serious illness with Covid-19 and we do not yet know what role they play in significantly spreading the virus,” he said.
“The UK should adopt UK-appropriate measures and not give in to the demand for something to be done, otherwise this will result in inappropriate actions at the wrong time.”
Jimmy Whitworth, professor of international public health at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, said he was “sceptical” about closing schools.
Anyone displaying symptoms should self-isolate from Friday
He said: “I don’t see any convincing evidence that children are driving transmission here, and school closures would cause lots of social disruption.
“If it was part of a package of reducing gatherings, that would make more sense. But I wouldn’t target schools particularly.”
Dr Thomas House, reader in mathematical statistics at the University of Manchester, said: “Deciding when to take action such as shutting schools is difficult.
“On the one hand, it helps to contain the spread of infection, but on the other it creates wider problems in society, like missing out on education.
“And if the closure is not carefully managed then children may spend more time with, and thereby increase the infection risk of, their grandparents, who appear to be more vulnerable to complications from coronavirus.”
Universities in Ireland have also been closed in response to the coronavirus outbreak.
On Thursday, Durham University said from March 16, all classroom teaching will end and be replaced with online lectures as much as possible for the final week of term.