Businesses and schools urged not to overreact as coronavirus spreads

By Luke Powell, PA

Schools and businesses have been urged not to overreact as the coronavirus continues to spread across Europe.

At least eight schools in the UK have closed while others – including Prince George’s – have sent pupils home amid fears they may have been exposed to coronavirus during trips to northern Italy.

However, Public Health England (PHE) said that its general advice is not to close schools – a message echoed by Health Secretary Matt Hancock.

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.

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Authorities in Italy have reported that the number of people infected in the country grew to 400 and 12 people have died.

In London, energy firm Chevron asked about 300 British employees to work temporarily from home after an employee in its Canary Wharf office reported a flu-like illness.

PHE said even if there has been a suspected case in the workplace, there is no need to close or send staff home while test results are awaited.

It said most possible cases turn out to be negative.

Mr Hancock said guidance had been sent to UK employers telling them staff who are asked to self-isolate are entitled to take sick leave.

He told the Commons that medical advice on self-isolation should be considered “sickness for employment purposes”.

Elsewhere, the Foreign Office denied there were any plans to evacuate around 168 Britons who remain in a coronavirus-hit hotel in Tenerife.

However, it has arranged for written messages to be put under the doors of the rooms of British guests asking them to get in contact.

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

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Mr Hancock told MPs on Wednesday that 7,132 people in the UK have so far been tested for the virus, officially named Covid-19.

Of these, 13 have tested positive, of whom eight have been discharged from hospital.

He said the NHS is looking to extend home testing while a new public information campaign will be launched.

Meanwhile, Prince George and Princess Charlotte’s primary school, Thomas’s Battersea, is one of several that have sent pupils home as a precautionary measure following trips to northern Italy.

Princess Charlotte and Prince George attend St Thomas’s Battersea (Aaron Chown/PA)

A spokesman for the school, which reportedly sent home four pupils, said: “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.”

Mr Hancock urged schools not to close unless they had a confirmed case of the virus.

France recorded its second death while the first positive test in South America has been recorded in a 61-year-old Brazilian man who had recently been to northern Italy.

For the first time, the number of new cases officially reported outside China has exceeded new cases reported by Beijing, Reuters reported.

It said figures from the World Health Organisation (WHO) showed there were 427 new cases reported in 37 countries on Tuesday, compared with 411 reported by Beijing.

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The Foreign Office in the UK has updated its guidance on travel to Italy, advising against all but essential travel to 10 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).

The Queen’s granddaughter Zara Tindall and her husband, former England rugby player Mike Tindall, will not be self-isolating following their return from a skiing trip to the Lombardy region, a spokeswoman for the couple said.

The spokeswoman said the couple were following official Government advice but were not self-isolating as they are not showing any symptoms of the infection.

BBC Radio 4 presenter Nick Robinson has said he is in self-isolation at home after returning from a trip to Vietnam and Cambodia, where cases have been recorded.

Britons at a coronavirus-hit hotel in Tenerife have been told to take their own temperatures and said there is confusion over whether they should stay in their rooms.

The Foreign Office has been in contact with more than 100 Britons in the hotel, who have been told it is likely they will have to stay put for 14 days.

It is understood that guests without symptoms are able to move around the hotel grounds, although some guests say they are still being told to stay in their rooms.

“Any British nationals who need support should contact the British Consulate in Tenerife on 0034 928 262 508,” a Foreign Office spokesperson said.

Wedding dress manufacturers have warned that closures at factories in China due to the outbreak could mean delays for British brides.

China, where the outbreak began, has reported 78,064 cases and 2,715 deaths while South Korea has the second-highest number of cases with 1,261 and 11 deaths.