All schools and colleges in Wales will move to online learning until 18 January.
Education Minister Kirsty Williams said that she had arrived at the decision in consultation with the Welsh Local Government Association and Colleges Wales.
“The situation in Wales and across the UK remains very serious. Today, the four UK Chief Medical Officers have agreed that the UK is now at the highest level of risk, Joint Biosecurity Council level 5,” she said.
“In the light of that decision the Welsh Government, in consultation with the WLGA and Colegau Cymru, has agreed that all schools, colleges and independent schools should move to online learning until January 18th.
“As a government we will use the next two weeks to continue to work with local authorities, schools and colleges to plan for the rest of term.
“This is the best way to ensure that parents, staff and learners can be confident in the return to face to face learning, based on the latest evidence and information.
“Schools and colleges will remain open for children of critical workers and vulnerable learners, as well as for learners who need to complete essential exams or assessments. On this basis Special Schools and PRU’s should remain open if possible.
“We had initially given schools flexibility in the first two weeks of term to decide when to reopen based on local circumstances.
“But it is now clear that a national approach of online learning for the first fortnight of term is the best way forward.
“We know that schools and colleges have been safe and secure environments throughout the pandemic.
“However, we also know that education settings being open can contribute to wider social mixing outside the school and college environment.
“We are confident that schools and colleges have online learning provision in place for this immediate period, Universities in Wales have already agreed a staggered start to term.
“Students should not return to universities for face to face learning until they are notified that they can do so.
“Wales remains in the highest level of restrictions. Everyone must stay at home.”
The First Minister Mar Drakeford said there was a “highly contagious strain of coronavirus strain circulating in our communities”.
“All school and college students will learn online for the next fortnight. This is the best way to help reduce the spread of this deadly virus,” he said.
It is only a few hours since Health Minister Vaughan Gething told a press conference that school openings would go ahead, but Scotland have in the interim announced their own school closures.
England is expected to follow suit when Boris Johnson announces a new lockdown at 8pm tonight.
The Chief Medical Officer for Wales, Dr Frank Atherton, earlier said that the Alert Level in Wales will be raised to 5.
He made the decision alongside the Chief Medical Officers of the other parts of the UK.
Level 5 or “red” means there is a “material risk of healthcare services being overwhelmed”, compared to Level 4 when transmission of the virus is “high or rising exponentially”.
The Covid-19 alert level refers to the threat of the epidemic and is separate from the seperate tiering systems in Wales, England, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
“Following advice from the Joint Biosecurity Centre and in the light of the most recent data, the four UK Chief Medical Officers and NHS England Medical Director recommend that the UK Alert Level should move from Level 4 to Level 5,” the Chief Medical Officers said in a joint statement.
“Many parts of the health systems in the four nations are already under immense pressure. There are currently very high rates of community transmission, with substantial numbers of COVID patients in hospitals and in intensive care. Cases are rising almost everywhere, in much of the country driven by the new more transmissible variant.
“We are not confident that the NHS can handle a further sustained rise in cases and without further action there is a material risk of the NHS in several areas being overwhelmed over the next 21 days.
“Although the NHS is under immense pressure, significant changes have been made so people can still receive lifesaving treatment. It is absolutely critical that people still come forward for emergency care. If you require non-urgent medical attention, please contact your GP or call NHS111.”
The statement was delivered jointly by the Chief Medical Officer for Wales, Dr Frank Atherton, the Chief Medical Officer for England, Professor Chris Whitty, the Chief Medical Officer for Scotland, Dr Gregor Smit, the Chief Medical Officer for Northern Ireland, Dr Michael McBrid and NHS England National Medical Director Professor Stephen Powis.