Coronavirus: Schools on alert after half-term

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:
On alert: Coronaviruses are a group of viruses that in humans cause typically mild respiratory tract infections, such as the common cold. Rarer forms such as SARS, MERS and COVID-19 can be lethal (image: Adobe Stock)

The Department for Education (DfE) has updated its coronavirus guidance for schools in light of the continuing spread of COVID-19 across Europe. It comes as schools in Cheshire take precautionary action following half-term trips to Italy.

As of February 26, there were more than 81,000 cases in around 40 countries worldwide, including more than 78,000 in China where the virus originated. More than 2,750 have died, including 50 or so deaths outside of China.

However, in recent days, more than 400 cases of COVID-19 have been identified in Italy, with at least 12 deaths. As of February 26, further cases have also been identified in countries including France, Germany, Spain, Austria, Croatia, Belgium, and Switzerland. As of February 26, the UK had 15 confirmed cases.

With half-term having recently ended, schools in the UK will be on alert for families and staff returning from affected areas.

Three schools in Cheshire have taken action this week after pupils returned from half-term trips to Northern Italy.

Cransley School, an independent day school in Northwhich, confirmed that “a small number” of pupils and staff began showing “mild flu-like symptoms”. A total of 29 pupils and five staff have just returned from a half-term trip to Bormio in Lombardy.

As a result, the school has closed its doors for the week and has asked all those on the trip to contact NHS 111 and request a test for COVID-19.

Elsewhere, Brine Leas Academy in Nantwich has no confirmed or suspected cases after a student ski trip to Northern Italy. However, as a precaution the school has asked those staff and pupils on the trip to self-isolate. The resulting staff shortage led the school to suspend its sixth form for one day.

And Sandbach High School in Sandbach also sent staff and pupils home after they returned from a trip to an area of Northern Italy deemed low-risk. Public Health England has since told the schools pupils and staff can return as long as they are not showing cold-like symptoms.

The incubation period of COVID-19 is between two and 14 days. This means that if a person remains well 14 days after contact with someone with confirmed coronavirus, it is unlikely that they have been infected. Symptoms include a cough, difficulty breathing and a fever.

The DfE guidance says that those returning from Category 1 areas in the last 14 days (Wuhan City, China; Hubei Province, China; Iran; Daegu or Cheongdo, South Korea; or any Italian town under containment) should self-isolate for 14 days.

Those returning from Category 2 areas (see further information) in the last 14 days should stay at home if they develop symptoms.

If pupils or staff become unwell and believe they have been exposed to COVID-19, schools should call NHS 111 (999 in an emergency). Those unwell should not be told to go to their GP, pharmacy or hospital. While waiting for advice from NHS 111 the person should be isolated in a separate room and should avoiding touching people and surfaces.

The guidance also advises on what to do and what will happen if there is a suspected or confirmed case in your school. It adds: “If there is a confirmed case, a risk assessment will be undertaken by the educational establishment with advice from the local Health Protection Team. In most cases, closure of the childcare or education setting will be unnecessary but this will be a local decision based on various factors such as establishment size and pupil mixing.”

The virus is not serious for most people, including children. Those who are vulnerable include people with weakened immune systems, such as the elderly or those with long-term conditions such as cancer, chronic lung disease and diabetes. Currently, five per cent of COVID-19 cases become seriously ill and one to two per cent are lethal.

There is no vaccine as yet and the public are simply being urged to respect good respiratory and hand hygiene. The DfE’s guidance also links to a number of education resources teaching pupils about hygiene.

Good practice: Alongside the DfE guidance, a free poster download is available for schools offering advice on COVID-19 and good hygiene practices

Further information

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