Coronavirus could put British schools on lockdown for months and throw exams into chaos, experts have warned.
Pupils could even be forced to sit their GCSEs and A-levels in the summer holidays if the deadly bug continues to spread.
Speaking at a press conference today, prime minister Boris Johnson said he was considering temporary school closures and cancelling major events are at the heart of the government's response.
"Keeping the country safe is the government's overriding priority, and our plan means we are committed to doing everything possible, based on the advice of our world-leading scientific experts, to prepare for all eventualities," he said.
But he said that the government didn't want to lock down classrooms unless absolutely necessary.
"On school closures, we don't think schools should be closing in principle if possible they should stay open but school authorities should follow the advice of Public Health England."
Britain's top doctor Professor Chris Whitty added that "there is no evidence that children are particularly badly affected by the virus, in fact, quite the other way."
He said: "Evidence from China at least would imply children have much less of this disease, either because they get it less often or the version they get is a lot milder."
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But the government plan involves implementing "delay and mitigate" phases to try and stop the spread of the deadly bug if it can't be contained.
A government source told The Sun: "Action that would be considered could include population distancing strategies such as school closures, encouraging greater home working, reducing the number of largescale gatherings to slow the spread of the disease throughout the population, while ensuring the country's ability to run as normally as possible."
So far, 11 British schools have shut down over confirmed coronavirus infections.
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In many cases, classrooms were put on red alert after students returned from skiing trips in northern Italy, which has seen the largest number of European cases.
A total of 39 people in the UK are now confirmed to have been infected, including one person under 18 after a student at Churston Ferrers Grammar School in Torbay, Devon, tested positive for the disease.
Professor Whitty refused to rule out a mass closure of British schools.
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"Everybody knows that the kinds of things you consider are reducing mass gatherings, school closures which may or may not be appropriate for this type of virus.
"We don't know yet, we need to find that out."
He added: "There are several things — to be clear we're not saying we will do them, we have to look at them and say, 'How likely are they to work and what's our evidence base here? What's the social cost of this?'"
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