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Wuhan Coronavirus - Schools Need to Take Action

on Wednesday, 29 January 2020.

Wuhan Coronavirus (WN-CoV) is a new type of infectious disease, first identified in Wuhan City, in the Hubei Province of China at the beginning of the year.

Typical symptoms include tiredness, fever, a cough and/or breathing difficulties. These may progress to severe pneumonia.

The virus can be serious and over 100 people have died from it. The spread of the disease and its apparent severity has been heavily publicised and schools are advised to consider the risks to their community now with this in mind, to communicate effectively with stakeholders and to document the measures to be taken.

As you may have heard, the Chinese authorities believe that the virus could be infectious during the incubation period and before a person is symptomatic. The incubation period can last up to 14 days.

There are currently no effective drugs or vaccines, so control of the virus relies on:

  • prompt identification of those at risk (particularly those who have travelled to Wuhan within the last 14 days or been in contact with others who have)
  • management and isolation of possible and confirmed cases
  • investigation and follow up of close contacts to minimise onward transmission

What Steps Are Being Taken to Control the Virus in China?

China has put a number of restrictions in place to try to control the spread of the virus. Wuhan City is now effectively under quarantine. Travel restrictions have been imposed across many areas of China and port-of-exit screening has been introduced so that people exhibiting symptoms are not permitted to leave the country.

Many schools and universities across China have also postponed the start of the new school term, with no definite date set for reopening.

What Precautionary Measures Are in Place in the UK?

The government considers that the risk to the UK population is low. It is publishing updates on a daily basis - generally at 2pm at Wuhan novel coronavirus: information for the public.

The Foreign and Commonwealth office has advised against all travel to Hubei Province and have urged UK nationals in the area to leave if they can. It has also advised against 'all but essential' travel to the rest of mainland China (not including Hong Kong and Macao). Travel advice for China can be found here.

Advanced monitoring of direct flights from China has been introduced at UK airports and a team is available at Heathrow to support anyone from China who feels unwell.

Given the uncertainty about the possibility of the virus spreading during the incubation period, the government has now requested anyone in the UK who has returned from Wuhan in the last 14 days to self-isolate. This means staying indoors and avoiding contact with other people. They have also asked them to contact NHS 111.

Anyone developing any respiratory symptoms within 14 days of travel from Wuhan should call their GP or ring 111, informing them of their symptoms and their recent travel to Wuhan. Advice should be sought from a clinician before leaving home.

Public Health England (PHE) officials are attempting to trace 1,460 people who have recently arrived in the UK from Wuhan.

What Should Schools Do?

The Boarding Schools Association published a Novel Coronavirus guidance update on 27 January 2020. This provides useful guidance on issues such as travel (recommending against travel to China and Hong Kong for the time being; and the establishment of appropriate quarantine arrangements for those who have travelled there), communication with stakeholders and medical care. We endorse their recommendations. This is available to non-members and recommended to all schools (including day schools).

We would recommend that all schools now assess the risk, with particular care to identify those with impaired immunity who are at particular risk and put appropriate measures in place to control that risk. The starting point should be to assess the risk of members of the school community having come into recent contact with the virus. Although it is unlikely that they will pose a risk now, we would recommend the identification of those who have visited Wuhan since the start of the Christmas holidays or been in contact with someone who has, to ensure the risk is managed and they are adequately supported.

Schools should monitor developments and consider the application of relevant policies and procedures (such as crisis plans) to these circumstances as they develop. They should assess how best to support staff and pupils and educate pupils remotely, if required.

While we sincerely hope it will not be required, consideration should also be given to the possible need to manage an outbreak in the UK and the procedures to be followed if an emergency response is required. This should include consultation with the local Health Protection Team.

For expert legal advice on the developments and considerations schools should be making in relation to the Coronavirus, please contact Tabitha Cave on 0117 314 5381, or complete the form below.

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