Public Health England (PHE) said it is not advising schools in the UK to close in an effort to stem the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19), despite recent outbreaks in Europe.
Around a dozen schools have sent staff and pupils home to self-isolate for 14 days after returning from half-term trips in northern Italy, where 323 people have tested positive for the virus and 11 have died.
However, PHE’s medical director Paul Cosford confirmed that the general advice is still “not to close schools.”
Fourteen schools in the UK have now closed, while more than 20 others have sent pupils home for fear they may have been exposed to coronavirus during ski trips to northern Italy.
The schools that are currently closed are:
Lutton St Nicholas primary school, Lincolnshire
Gedney Church End primary school, Spalding
Shepeau Stow Primary School, Spalding
St Christopher's C of E high school, Accrington
Trinity Catholic College, Middlesbrough
Cransley School in Northwich, Cheshire
The Brine Leas Academy sixth form, Cheshire
William Martin Junior and Infant School, Essex
Tudor Grange Academy Kingshurst, Birmingham
The ContinU Plus Academy, Kidderminster
Lime Academy Watergall in Bretton, Peterborough
St Peter's Church of England Middle School, Old Windsor
Archbishop Temple School, Preston
Burford School, Oxfordshire
But despite concerns coronavirus could spread following the recent outbreak in Italy, Cosford told Radio 4’s Today programme that self-isolation, rather than school closures, is key.
He said: “Schools have to take difficult decisions given the complexity of issues that they are facing.
“What I would say is that our general advice is not to close schools.
“What we are clear about is if you have been in the area of northern Italy of concern and you have symptoms - it is a cough, shortness of breath or fever - then you do need to self-isolate, you need to phone NHS 111 and await advice for further assessment or testing.
“Of course if you’ve been to one of the specific towns that are identified by the Italian government and essentially closed down, then our advice and requirement is to self-isolate anyway.”
Cosford also added the PHE was available to talk to schools about their “specific circumstances” and “help them make the right decisions for them”.
The UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) recently updated its travel advice, urging against all but essential travel to 10 small towns in Lombardy.
These include Codogno, Castiglione d’Adda, Casalpusterlengo, Fombio, Maleo, Somaglia, Bertonico, Terranova dei Passerini, Castelgerundo and San Fiorano, along with one in Veneto (Vo’ Euganeo).
These areas have been isolated by the Italian authorities due to an ongoing outbreak of coronavirus.
Advice for parents
The Department for Education along with PHE has issued updated advice for schools and colleges in England, following a number of schools sending staff and students home to self-isolate after returning from northern Italy.
The advice states that students returning from the region who are not experiencing any symptoms should continue to attend school as normal.
If children are currently well:
they are advised to self-isolate only if they develop symptoms
they can continue to attend work or education
they do not need to avoid contact with other people
their family do not need to take any precautions or make any changes to their own activities
testing people with no symptoms for COVID-19 is currently not recommended
it is useful to always take a mobile phone with them when they go out so that they can contact others if they do become unwell
In the UK, 7,132 people have been tested for coronavirus with 13 testing positive. Eight of those who tested positive have now been discharged from hospital.
Two further patients in England have tested positive for coronavirus on Thursday (27 Feb), bringing the total number of cases in the UK to 15. These patients have been transferred to specialist NHS infection centres.
Symptoms to look for
Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses, with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) explaining they usually cause “mild to moderate upper-respiratory tract illnesses”, like the common cold.
Most people get infected with these viruses at some point during their lives, although they usually only last for a short period of time.Symptoms of the virus may include:
loss of smell and taste
a general feeling of being unwell
Human coronaviruses can sometimes cause lower-respiratory tract illnesses, such as pneumonia and bronchitis, or more severe diseases such as SARS. However, this is more common in people with cardiopulmonary disease, people with weakened immune systems, infants and older adults.