Schools tell pupils to stay at home for two-week isolation amid coronavirus fears
PUBLISHED: 11:39 26 February 2020 | UPDATED: 16:53 27 February 2020
Archant Norfolk © 2014
Schools are taking drastic precautions including advising pupils to stay away for a two-week isolation period to protect against the spread of coronavirus.
Some that have seen staff and students return from half-term ski trips to northern Italy have sent pupils home for fear they may have been exposed.
It comes as travellers returning to the UK from areas of Italy were told they may need to self-isolate as part of measures to stop the spread of illness.
Britons who have been in locked-down regions of Italy - including Lombardy and Veneto - were told they should self-isolate at home for 14 days even if they have no symptoms.
Students and staff at both Cliff Park Ormiston Academy in Gorleston and Ormiston Denes in Lowestoft who took part in ski trips to Tonale have been told to say at home for two-weeks.
In a letter to parents, Cliff Park principal Tamsin Poulter said the school had taken the action in line with updated Department of Health advice.
She adds: "In line with this new advice, we have been instructed to send members of this school party home for a self-imposed two-week isolation, as a precautionary measure.
"We have also been advised that anyone from this group or the wider school community, with specific health concerns or any related symptoms, should contact 111 for advice."
Other schools believed to have run ski trips to the Italian Alps over half-term include Wymondham High Academy, Northgate High School in Dereham and Dereham Neatherd High School.
Ormiston Victory Academy in Costessey said its Italian trip had not been to any areas of concern and no children had shown any symptoms to date.
Tim Gibbs, headteacher at Reepham High School, whose pupils took to the ski slopes at Sestriere, said: "We are currently receiving a number of phone calls regarding the coronavirus, many focussing on the school's ski trip to Sestriere, on the Italian/French border. This is approximately 200 miles from the areas identified as potentially the most dangerous in terms of the virus, but of course we have to remain vigilant and do all we can to monitor potential infection."
At Thorpe St Andrew High School in Norwich, where about 40 students travelled to Italy for its ski-trip, a message to parents from acting principal Pete Lambert said: "It is important that you know that the trip did not visit any Italian town under containment measures, and we have had no confirmed cases of covid 19 within the school community.
"As you may appreciate this is a very fluid situation so we are constantly reviewing the guidance issued and will react accordingly to that guidance and any change in our situation."
Despite this some parents have decided to keep their children out of the school as a precaution.
Simon Morgan, whose daughter is in Year 7, said: "She is not in school until I hear more about it and I know another four parents and carers who have also not let their child go in. The school just has an automated phone message, so you can't even speak to anyone about it. Other schools that went on Italy skiing trips are taking measures."
John Cole, the father of a girl in Year 10, said: "We have kept her off as a safety precaution. There are a lot of worrying factors and we just aren't getting enough information. I have been told that a boy who was on the trip complained of feeling unwell and has gone to hospital for testing."
Rumours of pupils having to be sent home from Old Buckenham High School prompted headteacher Andrew Fell to issue a statement.
He said: "I have been made aware of comments and concerns posted on social media. Some of the comments are misleading and inappropriate, however I do understand the concerns parents have with regard to the Covid 19 outbreak.
"The Government advice has not changed, and the school has not been made aware of any students who have recently returned from an area where self-isolation is required.
"I have been made aware of two students that visited Northern Italy during half-term and the school has been in contact with their families and have followed the Government advice in both cases. As and when the situation and advice changes, I will keep parents fully informed."
Pupils at Litcham School, near Dereham, have also returned from a ski trip, but in a letter to parents the school states the visit was not in the specific lockdown areas.
It adds: "Please be assured that the risk is low and there remains no cause for concern at school. We will of course continue to update our advice, following guidance issued by the Government. We will continue to keep the school clean to prevent the spread of any virus."
Public Health England has confirmed it is not advising that schools shut in an attempt to stem the spread of coronavirus.
The organisation's medical director Paul Cosford told Radio 4's Today programme: "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."
However Gedney Church End Primary, near King's Lynn, has been closed until Friday, February 28 as a "precautionary measure" because of "a potential connection to the coronavirus by an individual within the school".
"The individual has been isolated and is being tested. Following advice from Public Health England, the school is being deep cleaned before re-opening," it said.