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Coronavirus fears: Northern Ireland schools send home pupils returning from ski trips in Italy

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Cambridge House Grammar in Ballymena

Cambridge House Grammar in Ballymena

Photopress

Banbridge Academy

Banbridge Academy

Cambridge House Grammar in Ballymena

Pupils at schools in Northern Ireland returning from half-term ski trips in northern Italy have been sent home over fears about the coronavirus.

There are five schools known to have issued advice to staff, parents and pupils, although there are no confirmed cases of the virus here.

The Public Health Agency (PHA) has told anyone in Northern Ireland who has been in northern Italy to stay at home for 14 days if they develop a cough, fever, or difficulty breathing and seek medical advice - although that advice appeared to change last night.

Limavady Grammar school said a group of Year 10 pupils recently returned from Marilleva, Italy, and had travelled through Bergamo, Milan Airport on February 22. Initially, the school said that after taking the PHA's advice, those pupils and staff should "self-isolate for 14 days as a precautionary measure".

But after taking further advice later, it said they should only self-isolate if they are showing symptoms.

"This evening the PHA advice is to continue as normal unless staff or children present with a cough, a fever or have breathing difficulties," the school said.

"Our pupils were not in any of the towns listed as Category 1 on the PHA guidance.

"School will operate as normal tomorrow. However, if your child is showing any symptoms of illness, please do not send them and seek medical advice by telephone."

Earlier, Health Minister Robin Swann told the Assembly the situation was fast-moving and updated guidance would be sent to schools. He said it was up to each school what measures they took, but thought it unlikely they would completely close.

It is understood that Our Lady and St Patrick's College, Knock also issued advice after a number of pupils returned from a skiing trip in Italy. Antrim Grammar School pupils were in Andalo, north of Pisa, which is a category-two region, meaning travellers are not required to undertake special measures, but are requested to self-isolate and contact their doctors.

They are advised to continue as normal unless they get a cough, fever or have breathing difficulties.

"As a school, we have taken all of the precautions as advised from the Public Health Agency," principal Jenny Lendrum said.

Banbridge Academy's school principal issued a letter to parents warning any student or staff member who has returned recently from northern Italy to self-isolate.

Head teacher Robin McLoughlin released the letter yesterday morning following updated official advice for travellers.

A group of 88 pupils and staff had been skiing in the resort of San Valentino. A number are understood to have stayed at home. They departed for the slopes on February 15, for a week-long trip.

In his letter to parents and guardians, Mr McLoughlin said: "The Public Health Agency has recommended that any pupil or member of staff who recently travelled to northern Italy and is displaying flu-like symptoms should be isolated as soon as possible and should self-isolate at home.

"In addition, as a further precaution, siblings or other family members showing flu-like symptoms should self-isolate and not attend school."

Mr McLoughlin said it had been "an extremely busy morning" for the school as they sought advice from the relevant government agencies. "The information we receive is constantly being updated by the Public Health Agency and I encourage you to check their website," he added.

Outside Banbridge Academy yesterday, parents waiting to collect their children revealed their concerns. One mother, who didn't wish to be named, feared students like her daughter had been put at risk.

"My child didn't go on the school trip, but then the other pupils are home from the Italian trip and went to school yesterday," she said. "It's very close to home."

Another mother whose child is in Year 10 admitted she found the news worrying. "You are concerned. We're in a situation now where pupils on the trip were back on Monday and now we have this letter a day later," she said.

"But I'm glad the school's taking it seriously."

Mother-of-one Charlotte Boyd, whose daughter, Ariana, is in P4 at Edenderry Primary School - which is located within the same site as Banbridge Academy - described the news as "scary".

"I saw about it on social media. It was strange, I was actually talking to one of my friends about the coronavirus half an hour beforehand about how scary it is," she recalled.

Meanwhile, around 50 pupils from Ballymena's Cambridge House Grammar School were sent home as a precaution. They were in the Lombardy area, but did not visit the affected towns.

School principal Elma Lutton said the move was a precaution.

She added: "Taking cognisance of advice from the Public Health Agency and following advice from the education authority, the pupils and staff on that ski trip have been sent home for 14 days' self-quarantine."

Belfast Telegraph