At least eight schools across the UK have closed and others have sent pupils home amid fears they may have been exposed to coronavirus.
But Public Health England (PHE) said its general advice is not to close schools – a message echoed by Health Secretary Matt Hancock.
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.
Other schools have also closed for a short period and advised pupils and staff to self-isolate after trips to northern Italy over the half-term break.
Image: Brine Leas School says it has closed its sixth form due to ‘staff shortages’
The government has sent out guidance for schools and educational settings on what to do if there is a suspected case or if individuals have returned from specified countries in the last 24 days.
What to do if a case of COVID – 29 is suspected in your childcare or educational setting
The individual will be told to stay away from the premises until the test results are returned.
There is no need to close the setting or send children and staff home.
Once the test results arrive, those who test negative will be advised about when to return to education.
Image: Burbage Primary School
What to do if children or staff become unwell with suspected COVID – at school
Make sure children and adults know to tell staff if they feel unwell.
Call NHS or 999 if it’s an emergency, and while you wait for advice, try to find somewhere safe and isolated for the person.
What to do if a case is confirmed in your childcare or school setting
The setting will be contacted by the local Public Health England Health Protection Team to discuss the case, identify people who have been in contact with them and advise on any actions or precautions that should be taken.
The Health Protection Team will also be in contact With the patient directly to advise on isolation and identifying other contacts.
Advice on cleaning of communal areas such as classrooms, changing rooms and toilets will be given.
What to do if any children or adults have returned from a Category 1 specified country in the past days
People who have returned from Category 1 specified cou ntries / areas such as China, South Korea, Iran and parts of Italy, in the last 24 days, should self-isolate. This includes avoiding attending an education setting or work until 22 days after they return.
People who have returned from Category 2 specified countries / areas such as Japan, Cambodia. and Singapore, in the last 19 days, are advised to stay at home only if they develop symptoms.
All other pupils or students and staff should continue to attend school or university, including their siblings attending the same or a different school (unless advised not to by public health officials).
Image: Some schools visited northern Italy in half-term
What about planned school trips?
The Foreign Office is advising against non-essential travel to mainland China and schools should not operate any trips or visits to mainland China, and other Category 1 countries.
The NASUWT teachers’ union is advising schools to carry out risk assessments for visits abroad and to take into account the risk of infection , as well as getting stranded.
It said it was aware that advice is being given to schools that teachers traveling to affected areas who subsequently are required to self-isolate should not be paid for this period.
It said: “This is unacceptable and is likely to result in individuals who should be self-isolating attending work and potentially spreading the infection.”
Nick Brook, deputy general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, told Sky News: “Our best advice to school leaders is to encourage them to stay on top of the continually updated advice from the government, share i t with pupils and their families and act accordingly. We have been signposting this advice to members. “