Here's why some UK schools have closed amid coronavirus outbreak - and latest advice

Wednesday, 11th March 2020, 12:25 pm
Updated Wednesday, 11th March 2020, 12:30 pm
Schools could be closed in the event of a global pandemic (Getty Images)
Schools could be closed in the event of a global pandemic (Getty Images)

At a Cobra meeting on Monday the government underlined its determination to keep schools open despite the spread of the novel coronavirus Covid-19.

School closures do remain a possibility, however, according to contingency plans laid out by the government earlier this month, should the number of confirmed cases surge in any part of the UK.

Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty has also warned that schools could be closed for as long as two months if the UK is hit by a global pandemic of coronavirus.

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Why have some schools already closed?

Several schools across the UK have already closed as a precautionary measure after pupils or staff were tested positive for coronavirus.

On February 27, Burbage School in Buxton, Derbyshire was forced to close after the parent of a pupil received a positive result for Covid-19.In Tetbury, Gloucestershire a school closed down after a member of staff tested positive on March 2.Two schools, one in Northwich, Cheshire and one in Middlesborough, were subject to closures after school ski trips to a region of Italy affected by the coronavirus outbreak.In Stoke a school was closed after a meber of staff tested positive for the respiratory disease, while a school in Plymouth was hsut down after a member of staff "potentially" came into contact with an individual who tested positive.Two schools and three sports clubs closed in Northern Ireland over confirmed coronavirus cases.

So far, schools have closed for anywhere between two days and two weeks as investigations into whom an infected person may have come into contact with are carried out. Affected schools are also typically subject to deep cleans in the event of a potential outbreak.

What has the government said?

The UK government decided against closing schools on Monday, as they revealed that the UK would remain in the containment phase of its action plan to combat the virus.

A move into the delay stage, the second step of the government's action plan, would see large events cancelled and people asked to work from home.

According to government guidelines this could also see the closure of schools.

A statement said: "The UK governments’ education departments’ planning assumptions include the possibility of having to close educational settings in order to reduce the spread of infection.

These actions would" slow the spread of the disease throughout the population, while ensuring the country’s ability to continue to run as normally as possible," according to government guidelines.

How long could schools be shut for?

Chief Medical Officer (CMO) Chris Whitty warned that schools could be closed for more than two months in the event of the coronavirus ourbeak reaching pandemic proportions.

He warned that there could be a "social cost" if the virus intensifies.

Speaking on February 27, Whitty said:

"One of the things that’s really clear with this virus, much more so than flu, is that anything we do we’re going to have to do for quite a long period of time, probably more than two months.

“The implications of that are non-trivial, so we need to think that through carefully.

“This is something we face as really quite a serious problem for society potentially if this goes out of control. It may not but if it does globally then we may have to face that.”

Petition calls for government to consider closure of schools

A petition demanding that the government close schools and colleges across the UK in an attempt to stem the flow of the virus has been signed by over 240,000.

The petition asks that the govenrment “at least consider” the widespread closure of education centres.

Petition creator Sami Attout wrote: “We would like the government to enforce this action due to the growing fear among parents and students that attend school. The ability to focus or concentrate is affected, in addition to the growing fears of the coronavirus.”

Coronavirus: the facts

What is coronavirus?

COVID-19 is a respiratory illness that can affect lungs and airways. It is caused by a virus called coronavirus.

What caused coronavirus?

The outbreak started in Wuhan in China in December 2019 and it is thought that the virus, like others of its kind, has come from animals.

How is it spread?

As this is such a new illness, experts still aren’t sure how it is spread. But.similar viruses are spread in cough droplets. Therefore covering your nose and mouth when sneezing and coughing, and disposing of used tissues straight away is advised. Viruses like coronavirus cannot live outside the body for very long.

What are the symptoms?

The NHS states that the symptoms are: a dry cough, high temperature and shortness of breath - but these symptoms do not necessarily mean you have the illness. Look out for flu-like symptoms, such as aches and pains, nasal congestion, runny nose and a sore throat. It’s important to remember that some people may become infected but won’t develop any symptoms or feel unwell.

What precautions can be taken?

Washing your hands with soap and water thoroughly. The NHS also advises to cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when you cough or sneeze; put used tissues in the bin immediately and try to avoid close contact with people who are unwell. Also avoiding touching eyes, nose and mouth unless your hands are clean.

Should I avoid public places?

Most people who feel well can continue to go to work, school and public places and should only stay at home and self isolate if advised by a medical professional or the coronavirus service.

What should I do if I feel unwell?

Don’t go to your GP but instead call NHS 111 or look online at the coronavirus service that can tell you if you need medical help and what to do next.

When to call NHS 111

NHS 111 should be used if you feel unwell with coronavirus symptoms, have been in a country with a high risk of coronavirus in the last 14 days or if you have been in close contact with someone with the virus.