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Coronavirus Update

By Aegis UK February 3, 2020

This advice is a further update to that issued on January 27, and is on behalf of BSA, AEGIS and BAISIS.

1. How has the situation developed?
Public Health England confirms that human to human transmission is occurring, and it also seems certain that the virus is infectious before symptoms appear, as indicated by experts in Germany among others. The World Health Organization has declared the Novel Coronavirus as a public health emergency of international concern. Chief Medical Officers have stated the risk to individuals remains low. 

2. How widespread is the outbreak?
Although the centre of the outbreak is Wuhan in Hubei Province, China, cases have now been confirmed in all regions of China and in many other countries, including now the UK. There are four times as many confirmed cases as there were this time last week.

3. Is it safe to travel?
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) currently advises against all but essential travel to China. This advice does not yet extend to Hong Kong and Macao, but the Hong Kong Government has put measures and restrictions in place within the city. FCO travel advice to all affected countries can be found here

Schools should consider offering boarding provision during the holiday if guardians and host families are unable to help.

4. What about pupils who travel to China and then return to school?
If a parent or carer still decides to require their child to travel, schools must make it clear that anyone returning from China will be required to spend a period of 14 days in the UK before returning to school, and should self-isolate during this time. AEGIS has made it clear that their guardians are highly unlikely to be able to offer guardianship under such circumstances.

Although this exceeds current FCO advice, it is highly likely that full quarantine requirements will be in place by the time pupils return. Many schools have now put arrangements in place for pupils to stay with guardians or in school accommodation during the forthcoming break.

5. What about other countries?
Travel advice is subject to change, so the risk of parents taking their child back to an affected country means that their ability to return to school may be compromised should the advice change. For regular updates on the virus and the latest travel advice, please visit the FCO website.

6. What about planned visits to my school from affected countries?
Some schools have already cancelled visits from prospective parents, agents and pupils from China and other countries, and it is likely the programme of cancellations will need to be extended. Schools should continue to ensure admissions staff and registrars are given clear information with which they can respond to prospective families. Equally, schools must consider the impact on those affected when deciding on postponing or cancelling visits, but the safety of the school community must always be the primary concern.

7. What about Easter?
Given the scope and duration of previous epidemics, such as SARS in 2002-3, it is highly likely that travel restrictions will still be in place, or will have been enhanced at Easter. Schools should cater for the eventuality that many overseas boarders will wish to stay in the UK over the Easter period, and schools should assist with making arrangements wherever possible. Schools should inform pupils and parents that travel to China/affected regions at Easter is not advised and restrictive measures may be in place when they return, such as self-isolation in the UK for a period of 14 days before returning to school. They should further be advised that it may well be necessary to impose restrictions on those who have received visits from affected areas, such as when parents have travelled to the UK. 

Schools have a right to take reasonable measures to protect their staff and pupils and can advise pupils not to leave and advise those from overseas not to visit, but schools do not have the right to prevent any parent from collecting their child if they wish to do so. Any measures put in place must also be reasonable. If a parent visits their child for the whole Easter holiday and has displayed no symptoms before the end of the holiday, current health protection guidance indicates that such a person is beyond the incubation period and does not represent a risk. It would not be reasonable, therefore, to impose additional restrictions at that point without good cause. Schools need to have appropriate conversations with parents and pupils about their plans so that the best advice can be given to each individual family.

8. How should we be supporting pupils and families?
This is a very difficult time for all schools, all pupils and all families. Schools must give clear, consistent advice which recognises the fact that this is a global health emergency, but also the fact that the current risk to the UK is low and there is no immediate cause for alarm. 

Furthermore, schools must continue to support those who have family and friends in affected areas, must ensure that any actions taken are consistent for all families, based on travel and risk profile, not just those whose residence is in a particular area. BSA is certain that member schools will be acutely aware of the significant impact on those boarders who remain separated from their families for an extended period of time. 

Schools must also be sensitive to those with special circumstances such as bereavement. We are sure that all schools have reinforced the need for all pupils to support each other and that any discriminatory behaviour related to those from affected areas will not be tolerated. Member schools will have seen that our advice on this aspect last week was widely covered in the media.

Schools may wish to consider offering boarding provision during the holiday if guardians and host families are unable to help.

9. What should we be doing medically?
BSA is continuing to monitor advice from Public Health England, Health Protection Scotland and Public Health Wales, as well as other organisations, including MOSA (Medical Officers of Schools Association), and has written to Public Health England and to the Health Secretary. 

Schools should insist on good infection control habits, as would always be the case, particularly during the winter flu season.

10. How should we communicate?
There are now two confirmed cases in the UK and four times as many cases worldwide as when advice was last issued. BSA would recommend issuing updated advice to your school community, with the intention of being applicable to the widest audience. Some suggested wording is below:

I write with a further update relating to the Novel Coronavirus and the further measures the school is taking to keep all pupils and staff safe. We continue to monitor the situation regularly and to, follow the advice of Public Health England (PHE) and the Boarding Schools’ Association (BSA).

Since I last wrote, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office has advised against all but essential travel to China. As a result the school strongly advises against pupils travelling to, or receiving visits from affected countries at half-term. Anyone choosing not to follow this advice will be required to self-isolate in the UK for a period of 14 days before being allowed back into school. It is highly unlikely that guardians will be able to assist under such circumstances. Measures are in place to accommodate all those who need to be looked after over the half-term holiday. I have also placed restrictions on all other visits to and from affected areas for the time being, including those by staff.

It is highly likely that restrictions will still be in place at Easter, and everyone must now plan for that eventuality. All those who were planning to travel overseas at Easter must confirm their arrangements with house staff, and this includes travel to areas not currently at risk, as the outbreak continues to spread. Any pupil travelling to or receiving visitors from an area which is currently at risk or becomes so before the start of the summer term will be required to self-isolate in the UK for a period of 14 days before being readmitted to school. Therefore those who have been with parents in the UK for the whole Easter break will be outside the incubation period and able to return to school unless they have been in contact with other potentially infected persons. Should the virus begin to spread within the UK, this guidance will be updated in accordance with the Chief Medical Officers’ requirements.

The whole school community is being fully supportive of those with friends and family in affected areas and we are well aware of the significant burden of any restrictions the school makes. Please be assured however that the health and welfare of each and every member of the school community is our primary concern. I am extremely grateful to everyone for your ongoing support and engagement at this difficult time. I shall continue to update you as the situation develops.