Coronavirus chaos see seven UK schools shut and 18 send pupils and staff home

Seven UK schools have been shut down for ‘deep cleaning’ and 18 more have sent pupils into quarantine at home for a fortnight after half term ski trips to coronavirus-hit Italy.

Public Health England is not advising schools to close but headteachers have taken evasive action after some staff and students came down with ‘mild flu-like symptoms’ after returning from the Alps.

One primary school in Essex is closed as a precaution today because a teacher was in Italy over half term – even though the worker is not ill. 

A ‘worst case’ Government report predicting 80 per cent of Britons could catch it and 500,000 may die emerged today – and England’s chief medical officer, Professor Chris Whitty, said schools could be shut en masse if coronavirus gets out of control in Britain.

Closing schools would force millions of parents to stay at home, including essential health workers such as doctors, nurses and pharmacists. 

Prof Whitty said: ‘There’s no secret there’s a variety of things you need to look at, you look at things like school closures, you look at things like reducing transport.’ 

Italy is struggling to contain the spread of coronavirus with 11 dead and 322 confirmed sick – and dozens of UK schools have returned from the country’s Alpine ski resorts in the past week.  

Four schools were shut yesterday and three more closed today taking the total to seven – and at least 18 more have been sending students ad teachers into self-isolation if they came down with flu-like symptoms or chesty coughs.  

Seven schools are closed and at least 18 sent pupils and staff home because of coronavirus after trips to the Alps

Seven schools are closed and at least 18 sent pupils and staff home because of coronavirus after trips to the Alps

Seven schools are closed and at least 18 sent pupils and staff home because of coronavirus after trips to the Alps

Cransley School, a private school in Northwich, Cheshire (pictured) announced it will be closed for the rest of the week because of coronavirus fears. It will also undergo a deep clean, in a precautionary move to prevent any cases

Cransley School, a private school in Northwich, Cheshire (pictured) announced it will be closed for the rest of the week because of coronavirus fears. It will also undergo a deep clean, in a precautionary move to prevent any cases

Cransley School, a private school in Northwich, Cheshire (pictured) announced it will be closed for the rest of the week because of coronavirus fears. It will also undergo a deep clean, in a precautionary move to prevent any cases

Italy saw a devastating surge in coronavirus cases over the weekend, with confirmed infections rocketing from just six on Friday to more than 322  today, and 11 people have died

Italy saw a devastating surge in coronavirus cases over the weekend, with confirmed infections rocketing from just six on Friday to more than 322  today, and 11 people have died

Italy saw a devastating surge in coronavirus cases over the weekend, with confirmed infections rocketing from just six on Friday to more than 322  today, and 11 people have died

Worldwide, more than 80,000 people have been infected with the coronavirus and more than 2,700 have died

WHERE ARE THE SCHOOLS THAT HAVE BEEN GRIPPED BY CORONAVIRUS FEARS AFTER SKI TRIPS TO NORTHERN ITALY? 

Closed

1. Lutton St Nicholas primary school in Lincolnshire

2. Gedney Church End primary school

3. St Christopher’s C of E High School in Accrington 

4. Trinity Catholic College in Middlesbrough 

5. Cransley School in Northwich, Cheshire

6. The Brine Leas Academy sixth form in Cheshire 

7. William Martin Junior and Infant School in Essex

Pupils sent home 

1. Salendine Nook High School, Huddersfield

2. Newquay Tretherras

3. The Holt School, Wokingham

4. Cambridge House Grammar School, County Antrim

5. Penair School, Truro

6. Torquay Boys’ Grammar School

7. Haverfordwest High School, Pembrokeshire

8. Hall Cross Academy, Doncaster

9. Sandbach High School, Cheshire

10. The Crispin School, Somerset

11. Cleeve Park School, London (Sidcup)

12. Cardinal Heenan Catholic High School in West Derby

13. Woodrush High School in Wythall, Birmingham

14. Guernsey Grammar School

15. Sydney Russel School in Dagenham

16. Ysgol Friars School in Bangor, Wales

17. Banbridge Academy in Northern Ireland

18. Limavady Grammar School in Northern Ireland

Headteachers have the final say on when schools close for health and safety reasons such as illnesses or bad weather. 

The latest to shut their doors are Lutton St Nicholas and Gedney Church End primary schools in Lincolnshire ‘because of a potential connection to the Coronavirus by an individual within the school’. And St Christopher’s C of E High School in Accrington told parents it had to shut. 

A member of staff at William Martin Junior and Infant School came back from a half-term holiday in Italy so is shut as a precaution today. 

Trinity Catholic College in Middlesbrough and Cransley School in Northwich, Cheshire, shut completely on Tuesday so they can be deep cleaned. The Brine Leas Academy, also in Cheshire, shut its sixth form yesterday. 

And pupils and staff at 18 schools in Cornwall, Cheshire, Yorkshire, Berkshire, Pembrokeshire, Liverpool, London, Birmingham and Northern Ireland were sent home to quarantine themselves.     

As the Government advised all Britons who have come from northern Italy to self-isolate at home if they start to suffer flu-like symptoms, it has emerged:

  • Nearly £100billion has been wiped off the FTSE 100 in two days; 
  • A hotel in Tenerife with hundreds of guests including Britons was in lockdown; 
  • The Government is stockpiling drugs for malaria and HIV in the hope they can also treat coronavirus; 
  • NHS patients with severe chest infections will automatically be tested for the virus even if they haven’t visited an at-risk country; 
  • The Six Nations match between Ireland and Italy next Saturday could be called off;  

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

Austria, Croatia and Switzerland reported their first cases, while Spain and France recorded new ones, also involving people who had been to northern Italy.

The first positive test in South America has been recorded after 61-year-old Brazilian man who had recently been to northern Italy tested positive, it has been reported.

Should schools be shutting at all because of coronavirus? 

What Public Health England says:  

‘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’

What schools say:

Trinity Catholic College in Middlesbrough is shut as a precaution.

Headteacher Louise Dwyer said: ‘Over the February half term holiday 36 pupils and eight members of staff travelled to Verona in Northern Italy on a ski trip.

‘As you might be aware some of Northern Italy has been affected by Coronavirus.

‘The health and safety of our pupils is of paramount importance to us therefore I have taken the decision to send home the pupils that have travelled to Northern Italy whilst I await further guidance.’

Meanwhile, Public Health England announced that flu patients will now be assessed for coronavirus to see if it is spreading – even if they have not visited a hotspot country.

But it has confirmed it is not advising that schools shut in an attempt to stem the spread of coronavirus – unless they have been to one of the specific towns that are identified by the Italian government.

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.

‘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.’

He said Public Health England was available to talk to schools about their ‘specific circumstances’ and ‘help them make the right decisions for them’.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said official advice has been changed to say people who have been to anywhere in Italy north of Pisa should self-isolate if they develop flu-like symptoms on their return to the UK.

Virus could kill 500,000 Britons in ‘worst-case’ scenario, say officials 

Half a million Britons could be killed by coronavirus in a ‘reasonable worst-case’ scenario, according to a government memo.

The official paper claimed four in five could become infected by the virus.

The document from the National Security Communications Team also warns: ‘The current planning assumption is that 2-3 per cent of symptomatic cases will result in a fatality.’

Health sources suggest that would cost 500,000 lives, according to The Sun. A government spokesman said they did not expect this to happen but every eventuality had to be planned for.

Britons could be told to isolate themselves if a family member falls sick during a coronavirus pandemic. 

Schools may also be shut, transport networks suspended and football matches and other public gatherings postponed, according to possibilities being considered by Department of Health officials. Their coronavirus pandemic plan will be rolled out if the number of British cases escalates suddenly.

They are weighing up the effect of each action to contain the disease against the impact on society and the economy. For example, closing schools would force millions of parents to stay at home, including essential health workers such as doctors, nurses and pharmacists. Other measures could include advising members of the public to keep a safe distance from each other and avoid kissing or hugging.  

On Tuesday, Cransley School in Northwich, Cheshire, and Trinity Catholic College in Middlesbrough announced they would be closed for the rest of the week.

Both schools said that this was to allow for a ‘deep clean’ after pupils and teachers had returned from ski trips in northern Italy.

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

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.

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.

The Foreign Office later updated its travel advice, with a spokesman saying: ‘We advise against all but essential travel to 10 small towns in Lombardy and one in Veneto, which are currently in isolation due to an ongoing outbreak of coronavirus.

‘Any British nationals already in these towns should follow the advice of the local authorities.’

Three pupils at Torquay Boys' Grammar School in Devon have tested negative for the virus after being sent home feeling ill after a school trip to Italy

Three pupils at Torquay Boys' Grammar School in Devon have tested negative for the virus after being sent home feeling ill after a school trip to Italy

Cambridge House Grammar School in County Antrim said it had taken advice from public health chiefs to send around 50 pupils and staff home

Cambridge House Grammar School in County Antrim said it had taken advice from public health chiefs to send around 50 pupils and staff home

Three pupils at Torquay Boys’ Grammar School in Devon (left) tested negative for the virus after being sent home feeling ill after a school trip to Italy, and Cambridge House Grammar School (right) in County Atrim, Northern Ireland, sent home around 50 staff and pupils

Trinity Catholic College in Middlesbrough has closed for the week after pupils returned from a skiing trip to northern Italy. Initially it had sent 36 pupils home but has now closed completely for a deep clean

Trinity Catholic College in Middlesbrough has closed for the week after pupils returned from a skiing trip to northern Italy. Initially it had sent 36 pupils home but has now closed completely for a deep clean

Trinity Catholic College in Middlesbrough has closed for the week after pupils returned from a skiing trip to northern Italy. Initially it had sent 36 pupils home but has now closed completely for a deep clean

What is the Government’s advice on visiting Italy? 

The Foreign Office has updated its travel advice to Italy because of the coronavirus outbreak in some parts of the country.

A spokesman said: ‘We advise against all but essential travel to 10 small towns in Lombardy and one in Veneto, which are currently in isolation due to an ongoing outbreak of coronavirus.

‘Any British nationals already in these towns should follow the advice of the local authorities.’

The new advice reads: ‘The FCO advises against all but essential travel to 10 small towns in Lombardy: Codogno, Castiglione d’Adda, Casalpusterlengo, Fombio, Maleo, Somaglia, Bertonico, Terranova dei Passerini, Castelgerundo and San Fiorano, and one in Veneto: Vo’ Euganeo which have been isolated by the Italian authorities due to an ongoing outbreak of coronavirus.’ 

Britons were also among the estimated 1,000 guests at hotel in Tenerife who were told to stay in their rooms after an Italian doctor there was diagnosed with coronavirus.

The Italian doctor, who had travelled with his wife, tested positive on Monday and has been placed in isolation in hospital, local media reported.

A Foreign Office spokesman said its staff was offering advice and support to British people at the hotel.

The 108-room Grand Hotel Europa in the Alpine tourist hub of Innsbruck in Austria was sealed off after a receptionist was one of the first two cases of the virus in the country, Reuters reported.

Health ministers from seven European nations have met in Rome to discuss a coordinated response.

The European Commission, which enforces the rule book for the open-border Schengen Area, encouraged countries to adopt measures based on scientific evidence and ‘in coordination and not in a fragmented way’, a spokeswoman said.

Symptoms include a cough, fever and shortness of breath. 

Italy's sudden outbreak, which surged over the weekend, has gripped around a dozens smaller towns and provinces around Milan (Pictured: Soldiers stand guard at the Duomo di Milano, one of the city's biggest tourist attractions)

Italy's sudden outbreak, which surged over the weekend, has gripped around a dozens smaller towns and provinces around Milan (Pictured: Soldiers stand guard at the Duomo di Milano, one of the city's biggest tourist attractions)

Italy’s sudden outbreak, which surged over the weekend, has gripped around a dozens smaller towns and provinces around Milan (Pictured: Soldiers stand guard at the Duomo di Milano, one of the city’s biggest tourist attractions) 

Since cases of the COVID-19 illness soared in Italy over the weekend they have spread around Europe, with mainland Spain, Switzerland, Austria and Croatia today all declaring their first infected patients

Since cases of the COVID-19 illness soared in Italy over the weekend they have spread around Europe, with mainland Spain, Switzerland, Austria and Croatia today all declaring their first infected patients

Since cases of the COVID-19 illness soared in Italy over the weekend they have spread around Europe, with mainland Spain, Switzerland, Austria and Croatia today all declaring their first infected patients

As of February 25, a total of 6,795 people have been tested in the UK with 13 positive cases.

The Department of Health also added Iran, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Burma and parts of northern Italy to the list of places where travellers need to follow clinical advice.

China has reported 78,064 cases and 2,715 deaths, while South Korea has the second highest number of cases with 1,146 and 11 deaths.

Early on Wednesday the US military said one of its soldiers based in South Korea has also tested positive for coronavirus. 

WHAT DO WE KNOW ABOUT THE DEADLY CORONAVIRUS IN CHINA?

Someone who is infected with the coronavirus can spread it with just a simple cough or a sneeze, scientists say.

Over 2,700 people with the virus are now confirmed to have died and more than 80,000 have been infected. But experts predict the true number of people with the disease could be as high as 350,000 in Wuhan alone.  Here’s what we know so far:

What is the coronavirus? 

A coronavirus is a type of virus which can cause illness in animals and people. Viruses break into cells inside their host and use them to reproduce itself and disrupt the body’s normal functions. Coronaviruses are named after the Latin word ‘corona’, which means crown, because they are encased by a spiked shell which resembles a royal crown.

The coronavirus from Wuhan is one which has never been seen before this outbreak. It has been named SARS-CoV-2 by the International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses. The name stands for Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus 2.

Experts say the bug, which has killed around one in 50 patients since the outbreak began in December, is a ‘sister’ of the SARS illness which hit China in 2002, so has been named after it.

The disease that the virus causes has been named COVID-19, which stands for coronavirus disease 2019.

Dr Helena Maier, from the Pirbright Institute, said: ‘Coronaviruses are a family of viruses that infect a wide range of different species including humans, cattle, pigs, chickens, dogs, cats and wild animals. 

‘Until this new coronavirus was identified, there were only six different coronaviruses known to infect humans. Four of these cause a mild common cold-type illness, but since 2002 there has been the emergence of two new coronaviruses that can infect humans and result in more severe disease (Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) coronaviruses). 

‘Coronaviruses are known to be able to occasionally jump from one species to another and that is what happened in the case of SARS, MERS and the new coronavirus. The animal origin of the new coronavirus is not yet known.’ 

The first human cases were publicly reported from the Chinese city of Wuhan, where approximately 11million people live, after medics first started publicly reporting infections on December 31.

By January 8, 59 suspected cases had been reported and seven people were in critical condition. Tests were developed for the new virus and recorded cases started to surge.

The first person died that week and, by January 16, two were dead and 41 cases were confirmed. The next day, scientists predicted that 1,700 people had become infected, possibly up to 7,000.

Just a week after that, there had been more than 800 confirmed cases and those same scientists estimated that some 4,000 – possibly 9,700 – were infected in Wuhan alone. By that point, 26 people had died. 

By January 27, more than 2,800 people were confirmed to have been infected, 81 had died, and estimates of the total number of cases ranged from 100,000 to 350,000 in Wuhan alone.

By January 29, the number of deaths had risen to 132 and cases were in excess of 6,000.  

By February 5, there were more than 24,000 cases and 492 deaths.

By February 11, this had risen to more than 43,000 cases and 1,000 deaths. 

A change in the way cases are confirmed on February 13 – doctors decided to start using lung scans as a formal diagnosis, as well as laboratory tests – caused a spike in the number of cases, to more than 60,000 and to 1,369 deaths.

By February 25, around 80,000 people had been infected and some 2,700 had died. 

Where does the virus come from?

According to scientists, the virus almost certainly came from bats. Coronaviruses in general tend to originate in animals – the similar SARS and MERS viruses are believed to have originated in civet cats and camels, respectively.

The first cases of COVID-19 came from people visiting or working in a live animal market in Wuhan, which has since been closed down for investigation.

Although the market is officially a seafood market, other dead and living animals were being sold there, including wolf cubs, salamanders, snakes, peacocks, porcupines and camel meat. 

A study by the Wuhan Institute of Virology, published in February 2020 in the scientific journal Nature, found that the genetic make-up virus samples found in patients in China is 96 per cent identical to a coronavirus they found in bats.

However, there were not many bats at the market so scientists say it was likely there was an animal which acted as a middle-man, contracting it from a bat before then transmitting it to a human. It has not yet been confirmed what type of animal this was.

Dr Michael Skinner, a virologist at Imperial College London, was not involved with the research but said: ‘The discovery definitely places the origin of nCoV in bats in China.

‘We still do not know whether another species served as an intermediate host to amplify the virus, and possibly even to bring it to the market, nor what species that host might have been.’  

So far the fatalities are quite low. Why are health experts so worried about it? 

Experts say the international community is concerned about the virus because so little is known about it and it appears to be spreading quickly.

It is similar to SARS, which infected 8,000 people and killed nearly 800 in an outbreak in Asia in 2003, in that it is a type of coronavirus which infects humans’ lungs. It is less deadly than SARS, however.

Another reason for concern is that nobody has any immunity to the virus because they’ve never encountered it before. This means it may be able to cause more damage than viruses we come across often, like the flu or common cold.

Speaking at a briefing in January, Oxford University professor, Dr Peter Horby, said: ‘Novel viruses can spread much faster through the population than viruses which circulate all the time because we have no immunity to them.

‘Most seasonal flu viruses have a case fatality rate of less than one in 1,000 people. Here we’re talking about a virus where we don’t understand fully the severity spectrum but it’s possible the case fatality rate could be as high as two per cent.’

If the death rate is truly two per cent, that means two out of every 100 patients who get it will die. 

‘My feeling is it’s lower,’ Dr Horby added. ‘We’re probably missing this iceberg of milder cases. But that’s the current circumstance we’re in.

‘Two per cent case fatality rate is comparable to the Spanish Flu pandemic in 1918 so it is a significant concern globally.’

How does the virus spread?

The illness can spread between people just through coughs and sneezes, making it an extremely contagious infection. And it may also spread even before someone has symptoms.

It is believed to travel in the saliva and even through water in the eyes, therefore close contact, kissing, and sharing cutlery or utensils are all risky. 

Originally, people were thought to be catching it from a live animal market in Wuhan city. But cases soon began to emerge in people who had never been there, which forced medics to realise it was spreading from person to person.

There is now evidence that it can spread third hand – to someone from a person who caught it from another person.

What does the virus do to you? What are the symptoms?

Once someone has caught the COVID-19 virus it may take between two and 14 days, or even longer, for them to show any symptoms – but they may still be contagious during this time.

If and when they do become ill, typical signs include a runny nose, a cough, sore throat and a fever (high temperature). The vast majority of patients – at least 97 per cent, based on available data – will recover from these without any issues or medical help.

In a small group of patients, who seem mainly to be the elderly or those with long-term illnesses, it can lead to pneumonia. Pneumonia is an infection in which the insides of the lungs swell up and fill with fluid. It makes it increasingly difficult to breathe and, if left untreated, can be fatal and suffocate people.

What have genetic tests revealed about the virus? 

Scientists in China have recorded the genetic sequences of around 19 strains of the virus and released them to experts working around the world. 

This allows others to study them, develop tests and potentially look into treating the illness they cause.   

Examinations have revealed the coronavirus did not change much – changing is known as mutating – much during the early stages of its spread.

However, the director-general of China’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Gao Fu, said the virus was mutating and adapting as it spread through people.

This means efforts to study the virus and to potentially control it may be made extra difficult because the virus might look different every time scientists analyse it.   

More study may be able to reveal whether the virus first infected a small number of people then change and spread from them, or whether there were various versions of the virus coming from animals which have developed separately.

How dangerous is the virus?  

The virus has a death rate of around two per cent. This is a similar death rate to the Spanish Flu outbreak which, in 1918, went on to kill around 50million people.

However, experts say the true number of patients is likely considerably higher and therefore the death rate considerably lower. Imperial College London researchers estimate that there were 4,000 (up to 9,700) cases in Wuhan city alone up to January 18 – officially there were only 444 there to that date. If cases are in fact 100 times more common than the official figures, the virus may be far less dangerous than currently believed, but also far more widespread. 

Experts say it is likely only the most seriously ill patients who are seeking help and are therefore recorded – the vast majority will have only mild, cold-like symptoms. For those whose conditions do become more severe, there is a risk of developing pneumonia which can destroy the lungs and kill them.

Can the virus be cured? 

The COVID-19 virus cannot be cured and it is proving difficult to contain.

Antibiotics do not work against viruses, so they are out of the question. Antiviral drugs can work, but the process of understanding a virus then developing and producing drugs to treat it would take years and huge amounts of money.

No vaccine exists for the coronavirus yet and it’s not likely one will be developed in time to be of any use in this outbreak, for similar reasons to the above.

The National Institutes of Health in the US, and Baylor University in Waco, Texas, say they are working on a vaccine based on what they know about coronaviruses in general, using information from the SARS outbreak. But this may take a year or more to develop, according to Pharmaceutical Technology.

Currently, governments and health authorities are working to contain the virus and to care for patients who are sick and stop them infecting other people.

People who catch the illness are being quarantined in hospitals, where their symptoms can be treated and they will be away from the uninfected public.

And airports around the world are putting in place screening measures such as having doctors on-site, taking people’s temperatures to check for fevers and using thermal screening to spot those who might be ill (infection causes a raised temperature).

However, it can take weeks for symptoms to appear, so there is only a small likelihood that patients will be spotted up in an airport.

Is this outbreak an epidemic or a pandemic?   

The outbreak is an epidemic, which is when a disease takes hold of one community such as a country or region. 

Although it has spread to dozens of countries, the outbreak is not yet classed as a pandemic, which is defined by the World Health Organization as the ‘worldwide spread of a new disease’.

The head of WHO’s global infectious hazard preparedness, Dr Sylvie Briand, said: ‘Currently we are not in a pandemic. We are at the phase where it is an epidemic with multiple foci, and we try to extinguish the transmission in each of these foci,’ the Guardian reported.

She said that most cases outside of Hubei had been ‘spillover’ from the epicentre, so the disease wasn’t actually spreading actively around the world.

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