First Minister Arlene Foster has confirmed Northern Ireland schools will close from Monday, March 23 in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
The DUP leader said that the closure would "likely" continue beyond the break for summer holidays.
"The societal and economic impact of this measure will be enormous as parents have to adjust their routine to deal with this unplanned long term closure," Mrs Foster said.
"We are exploring how our schools can continue to be a space for the education of children whose parents are health service staff or indeed other key workers such as the blue light services."
"I look forward to the day when we see our schools fully functioning again."
All schools in Northern Ireland will be closed from Monday, March 23rd
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Options to be explored for children whose parents are health service staff or work for blue light services
"Politics has to be set aside", Mrs Foster said. "Today we stand united as leaders to help guide Northern Ireland, our people, through this time of unprecedented challenge."
This is the time to be the good Samaritan and we all have our part to playArlene Foster
Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill said we are currently living in "unprecedented times" and the number one priority is to "save lives".
"This virus has changed everything and it cannot be business as usual. This is already impacting our economy, businesses, jobs and people's livelihood," the Sinn Fein vice-President said.
"We know that you need our full support and you need resources and we need to come together like we have never, ever done before."
Also announced at the press briefing was the launch of a "community response plan" and two new grant schemes for vulnerable businesses.
Previously announced emergency £100m rates package
We are pledging to you all that the sole focus of government has now turned to doing everything that is necessaryMichelle O'Neill
Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that schools in England would also close from Friday, alongside schools in Scotland and Wales.
It comes as the Public Health Agency announced six new cases of the virus in Northern Ireland, bringing the total number of cases - of those that have been tested - to 68.
Almost 1,500 have been tested with health officials saying those that do not need hospital treatment should self-isolate and will not require testing.
Here's how Wednesday unfolded: