Coronavirus: Schools close amid fears over UK outbreak

At least six schools and a nursery in the UK have closed and more have sent pupils home for 14 days amid mounting fears of a coronavirus outbreak.

Schools closed following school trips to Lombardy, Italy, where there has been an outbreak. Picture: Adobe Stock
Schools closed following school trips to Lombardy, Italy, where there has been an outbreak. Picture: Adobe Stock

Public Health England (PHE) has advised schools and early years settings to ask children who have returned from areas badly affected by the illness, known as Covid-19, to self-isolate for two weeks if they begin to develop a fever or flu-like symptoms.

These areas include China, Hong Kong, Japan, Macau, Malaysia, Republic of Korea, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand and the Lombardy area of northern Italy.

A number of half-term ski trips to regions around 11 towns on lockdown in northern Italy, where there have been more than 300 confirmed cases of the virus in just four days, has seen schools close for the rest of the week or send pupils home. Cases have also now been confirmed in Switzerland, Spain and Croatia in people linked to Lombardy.

Cransley School in Cheshire said it had closed until Friday after staff and pupils who returned from Lombardy “began showing mild flu-like symptoms” on Monday.

Head teacher Richard Pollock said the decision had been taken following a call from NHS clinical services “advising the school to ensure that the pupils and staff who visited Bormio last week self-isolate, regardless of whether they are showing symptoms of being unwell.”

He said that despite this advice, and government guidance, the school’s leadership team had decided to close the school “to completely minimise possible spread of infection amongst families”.

Pollock said: “I understand that there will be a variety of reactions to this decision amongst parents, and hope that all families will understand the developing situation and the changing and inconsistent advice given to the school.”

Trinity Catholic College, in Middlesbrough, also announced it would close until the end of the week in “direct response to a small number of students and staff returning from a skiing trip over February half term”.

A statement posted on the school’s website says: “There are a number of pupils and staff who have vulnerable family members and it is the school’s duty of care to put in place the most secure of measures to minimise any possible infection.”

Gedney Church End and Lutton St Nicholas primary schools, in Spalding, Lincolnshire, have closed indefinitely to be deep-cleaned "because of a potential connection to the coronavirus by an individual within the school," a statement released by both schools says. 

It adds: "The individual has been isolated and is being tested." 

St Peter's middle schools, in Old Windsor, is closed after one student returned from holiday in "broadly affected area", headteacher Andy Snipp wrote on Facebook.

St Christopher's School, in Accrington, was closed on Wednesday and Wykebeck Primary School in Leeds has closed to nursery and reception students.

At least seven other schools had asked pupils to self-isolate including:

  • Brine Leas Academy in Nantwich
  • Tretherras in Newquay 
  • Salendine Nook High School in Kirklees 
  • Hall Cross Academy in Doncaster 
  • Sandbach High School in Cheshire 
  • Cambridge House in Balymena 
  • Penair School in Truro 

Latest government and PHE advice advises schools not to close but states staff or students who feel unwell should stay at home.

Children or staff who have travelled from infected areas in the last 14 days or come into close contact with someone diagnosed with coronavirus must also self-isolate for two weeks, the guidance states.

Pupils and staff suspected of being exposed to the illness must sit at least two metres from other people until they are offered medical treatment, however, no other precautions need to be taken by a school or childcare setting until tests confirm a case of the virus. 

However, in the event of a pandemic official government advisory documents suggest schools could be closed to prevent further spread of infection. 

The government’s Influenza Pandemic Strategy states “using a precautionary approach”, directors of public health “may advise localised closures of schools to reduce the initial spread of infection locally”.

Early years organisations have advised providers to keep up to date with government guidance and travel advice surrounding the virus.

The Early Years Alliance has also advised leaders to provide parents with official advice in a bid to prevent panic.

“Social media and word-of-mouth in a community can sometimes be a source of misinformation that quickly spreads. You can reassure parents who are worried by having up-to-date information from your local PHE, particularly if you hear of a suspected case of coronavirus locally,” a statement said. 

The National Day Nurseries Association added that parents should be encouraged to continue to take their children to settings, saying: “When advising parents, they should not be unduly worried about the possibility of their children catching the coronavirus. There is no reason why children should not continue to attend their setting as normal.”

The have currently been 13 confirmed cases of coronavirus in the UK, however, the government insisted it was planning for “all eventualities” if this number increases dramatically.

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