Coronavirus: Three schools shut down after students return from Italy ski trips

Rachael Kennedy, news reporter
Brine Leas School says it has closed its sixth form due to 'staff shortages'

Two schools have closed and another has shut its sixth form after students returned from half-term ski trips in Italy.

The shuttered schools, in Cheshire and Middlesbrough, made the decision as Italian authorities continued to struggle to control an outbreak of COVID-19.

They have both closed for the remainder of the week to carry out a "deep clean" on each of the premises, the schools said in separate statements.

A message to parents from Richard Pollock, the headteacher of Cransley School in Northwich, Cheshire, said the closure would "completely minimise" the risk of infection.

It comes after 29 students and five members of staff visited Bormio, northern Italy, last week, and had since been advised to self-isolate.

A further statement from the school said a "small number" of those who went on the trip began showing "mild flu-like symptoms yesterday".

"Regardless of the current Public Health England advice (that the school should remain open to all other pupils) I have decided... to completely minimise possible spread of infection and close the school for the remainder of the week," Mr Pollock wrote.

He added: "During this time, the school will be able to conduct a deep clean, and monitor the results of tests amongst those pupils who are currently showing flu-like symptoms."

Meanwhile, Trinity Catholic College in Middlesbrough said it had closed after some of its students and staff had also returned from a northern Italy trip with "mild flu-like symptoms".

In a statement, it said: "We appreciate that there will be many views on this action amongst parents, and hope that everyone understands the ongoing fluidity of the situation.

"There are a number of pupils and staff who have vulnerable family members and it is the school's duty of care to put in place the most secure of measures to minimise any possible infection."

Brine Leas School in Nantwich, Cheshire, said on Twitter it had also decided to close its sixth form "due to staff shortages".

The message followed an earlier tweet which said the facility would be "following government advice regarding travel to Italy".

At least nine other schools across the UK have also sent students and staff home.

They are:

England's chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty has said more schools could be shut and public transport reduced if coronavirus became a global pandemic.

He said: "There's no secret there's a variety of things you need to look at at, you look at things like school closures, you look at things like reducing transport.

"The expectation is not that we will do all these things, the expectation is we will be looking systematically, using the science, at all the building blocks and balancing the effects against costs to society."

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The Six Nations rugby match between Ireland and Italy in Dublin this weekend is in doubt over coronavirus fears.

Ireland's Health Minister Simon Harris told Sky News: "Nobody wants to see mass events cancelled but at the end of the day we have to prioritise public health.

"We're in a containment stage. It's impossible to stop every single case of COVID-19, we've seen that in recent days.

"But we do need to take all reasonable measures in Ireland and abroad to try and minimise the impact and minimise the spread.

"The national public health emergency team today was very strongly of the view that the Ireland Italy rugby match would be a very high risk event."

The Ireland national side has said it is seeking an urgent meeting with Mr Harris as to the specific reasoning behind calling for the cancellation of the match.

It comes as the UK's chief medical officer said anyone returning from parts of northern Italy on lockdown because of coronavirus must self-isolate.

The British government has updated its travel advice as Italy scrambles to contain an outbreak that has now spread south, after the first positive case was confirmed in Sicily.

Travellers - even those without symptoms - coming home to Britain from specific areas have been told to stay indoors, avoid contact with other people and call NHS 111.

People returning from the wider region - anywhere north of but not including Pisa, Florence and Rimini - who do have flu-like symptoms must also self-isolate.

The latest advice is likely impacting families returning from half-term skiing holidays

In Italy, ten people have died and more than 300 suspected and confirmed cases of the coronavirus have been recorded in what has become Europe's biggest outbreak of the illness.

A dozen towns in northern Italy have been placed on lockdown to control the spread of infection, and neighbouring Austria has assembled a special taskforce to consider border controls.

France, which covers part of Italy's northwestern border, has said there no current plans for controls but has called the situation "worrying".

Public Health England has said it will launch a new surveillance strategy to detect the virus by testing hospital patients with severe respiratory infections who are not believed to have COVID-19.

This strategy is "a preparatory step" in spotting early patterns of transmitting the illness, according to PHE.

Yvonne Doyle, PHE's medical director, said: "There is no change in risk for the public but taking this preparatory step now will enable us to better detect and contain the spread of the virus.

"The UK's infection control procedures are world-leading, and the system we are announcing today further strengthens our response.

"This process will not apply to patients meeting the current COVID-19 case definition, who will continue to be isolated and tested as appropriate, and test result times will not be affected."