Government urges schools and businesses to stay open despite coronavirus

27 February 2020, 07:43 | Updated: 28 February 2020, 14:47

People are seen on a tube wearing face masks
People are seen on a tube wearing face masks. Picture: PA

By Asher McShane

The Government has been forced to tell schools and businesses to take steps to keep their doors open in an attempt to stem rising concern over the spread of coronavirus.

Ministers have warned against an ‘over-reaction’ that could cost Britain - after 35 schools either closed or sent pupils home over fears they could have picked up the illness in Italy.

Read more: Coronavirus safety - symptoms, hygiene tips, travel advice, your rights if you self-isolate

It comes after four pupils at Prince George and Princess Charlotte's primary school, Thomas's Battersea, were sent home as a precautionary measure following a trip to northern Italy.

An increasing number of Brits have been cancelling foreign holidays, major events have been postponed across Europe and more new cases have been declared outside China than within.

Cases are continuing to soar in Italy.

The guidance from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and Public Health England (PHE) says workers with suspected cases should be put in isolation, adding: "Closure of the workplace is not recommended.

"For contacts of a suspected case in the workplace, no restrictions or special control measures are required while laboratory test results for Covid-19 are awaited.

"In particular, there is no need to close the workplace or send other staff home at this point."

Schools across the UK have closed to protect against coronavirus, despite health officials recommending that they should stay open.

At least eight have closed, while others have sent pupils home amid fears they may have been exposed to coronavirus during trips to northern Italy.

But Public Health England (PHE) said that its general advice is not to close schools.

The closures come after travellers returning to the UK from northern Italy were told they may need to self-isolate as part of measures to stop the spread of illness.

The ContinU Plus Academy in Kidderminster said it was closed for the day on Wednesday after a staff member had been in "close contact" with a family member who was self-isolating following a trip to northern Italy.

A statement on its website said: "We are now taking advice from the DFE (Department for Education) and the NHS and hopefully will be able to reopen tomorrow.

"If a deep clean is deemed necessary we may be forced to extend the period of closure."

William Martin CofE Junior, Infant and Nursery School in Harlow, Essex, also said it had closed on Wednesday after a staff member had returned from Italy.

Headteacher Gina Bailey said: "The school is closed for one day and it is purely as a precaution.

"The staff member is not displaying any symptoms of the virus."

St Peter's C of E middle school in Old Windsor, Berkshire, said on social media it had closed for the day as well.

Its headteacher Andy Snipp said on Facebook: "I received information late last night that one of our students had returned from a half term break to a location which is broadly part of an affected area.

"I must repeat that this is simply a precaution and were I to have been aware sooner then we would have completed the clean prior to the opening of the school."

Cransley School in Northwich, Cheshire, and Trinity Catholic College in Middlesbrough announced on Tuesday they would be closed for the rest of the week to allow a deep clean.

Trinity Catholic College said that a "small number of staff and pupils" had started showing mild flu-like symptoms following a ski trip.

Lutton St Nicholas and Gedney Church End primary schools in Lincolnshire also said they had closed "because of a potential connection to the coronavirus by an individual within the school".

St Christopher's C of E High School in Accrington told parents it would be shut on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, Sandbach High School in Cheshire said students and staff who visited Aprica, in Italy's Lombardy region, were to stay indoors and self-isolate.

A third Cheshire school, Brine Leas School in Nantwich, said its sixth form was closed due to staff shortages following Government advice regarding travel to Italy.

Students from Penair School in Truro, Cornwall, Salendine Nook High School in Huddersfield, Cardinal Heenan Catholic High School in West Derby and Newquay Tretherras in Newquay, have also been advised to stay home after returning from ski trips.

And four pupils at Prince George and Princess Charlotte's primary school, Thomas's Battersea, were reportedly sent home as a precautionary measure following a trip to northern Italy.

A spokesman for Thomas's Battersea said: "Like all schools we are taking the potential risks connected with the spread of Covid-19 very seriously and to this end are following government guidance to the letter around both prevention against infection and in dealing with cases where any staff or pupils are suspected of being exposed to the virus or who display any symptoms.

"We currently have a very small number of pupils who have been tested and these individuals are currently, as per government advice, remaining at home pending the receipt of their test results.

"All parents have been informed and we have maintained regular communication with our school community to ensure that advice is shared and important information is circulated. We will of course preserve staff and pupil confidentiality and will not be commenting on specific cases."

Authorities in Italy reported on Tuesday night that the number of people infected in the country grew to 322, or by 45% in 24 hours, and deaths of patients with the virus rose to 11.

Britons who have been in lockdown regions of Italy - including Lombardy and Veneto - were told they should self-isolate at home for 14 days even if they have no symptoms.

PHE has confirmed it is not advising schools to 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."

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