UK schools close as coronavirus panic spreads across Europe

Schools in the UK are taking drastic action to protect against Covid-19 as the illness continues to spread across Europe amid fears of a global pandemic.

At least six schools have closed, while others have sent pupils home for fear they may have been exposed to coronavirus during ski trips to northern Italy.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said there said there was no reason for schools to close while pupils were being tested.

He explained: "There is no need to close the school or send other students or staff home. Once the results arrive, those who test negative will be advised individually about returning to education.

Matt Hancock urged schools to follow advice before closing for coronavirus.

"In most cases, closure of the childcare or education setting will be unnecessary, but this will be a local decision based on various factors including professional advice."

A specialist isolation unit for passengers arriving at Heathrow Airport has been set up to limit the spread of infection, Mr Hancock added, and that similar measures could be taken at other international travel hubs if necessary.

In the UK, 7,132 people have been tested for coronavirus with 13 testing positive. Eight of those who tested positive have been discharged from hospital.

It comes as fears of the virus spreading in Europe grew, with Austria, Croatia and Switzerland reporting their first cases of the illness, while Spain and France recorded new ones - also involving people who had been to northern Italy.

Authorities in Italy reported on Tuesday night that the number of people infected in the country grew to 322, or 45 per cent in 24 hours, and deaths of patients with the virus rose to 11.

Patients are treated in hospital in Wuhan, the epicentre of Covid-19. Credit: AP

UK ministers said emergency services "are prepared" should the UK see an outbreak of coronvirus similar to that being dealt with in Italy and elsewhere.

Kit Malthouse, Government Minister for Crime, told ITV News the Government's emergency committee Cobra has been carrying out rehearsal exercises.

The MP added that police forces are ready to enforce quarantine if needed.

Mr Malthouse said: "The police are prepared, if required, to deal with some of the events that may occur on the streets.

"Or indeed to enforce quarantine if it's needed."

Public Health England (PHE) announced that flu patients will now be tested for the disease.

Official travel advice has changed so that people who have developed flu-like symptoms anywhere north of Pisa in Italy should self-isolate if they develop flu-like symptoms on their return to the UK.

Anyone who has visited the 11 quarantined towns in Lombardy and Veneto must isolate themselves whether they display symptoms or not.

On Tuesday, Cransley School in Northwich, Cheshire, and Trinity Catholic College in Middlesbrough announced they would be closed for the rest of the week.

Both schools said that this was to allow for a "deep clean" after pupils and teachers had returned from ski trips in northern Italy.

Trinity Catholic College said that a "small number of staff and pupils" had started showing mild flu-like symptoms following a ski trip.

The quarantined towns in northern Italy. Credit: PA

England’s chief medical officer, Professor Chris Whitty, said 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, you look at things like school closures, you look at things like reducing transport."

Elsewhere, holidaymakers staying at a Tenerife hotel remain quarantined in their rooms after an Italian guest tested positive for coronavirus.

Guests staying at the four-star H10 Costa Adeje Palace in the south west of the island were sent a letter on Tuesday morning saying the hotel is "closed down" and they must remain in their rooms until further notice.

  • Streets in Italy are all but deserted as towns are put in lockdown

The Italian tourist, believed to be a doctor, has been kept in isolation after he tested positive for coronavirus, the Canary Islands' president confirmed.

Elaine Whitewick, a hairdresser from East Keswick in Yorkshire, and her friend Jayney Brown are on a week's holiday at the resort.

They told ITV News they were "shocked" to receive the note pushed through their door on Tuesday morning saying the hotel was being shut down for health reasons.

The European Commission, which enforces the rule book for the open-border Schengen Area, encouraged countries to adopt measures based on scientific evidence and "in coordination and not in a fragmented way", a spokeswoman said.

Symptoms of Covid-19 include a cough, fever and shortness of breath.

A carabinieri guards the town of Codogno in Lombardy which is in lockdown. Credit: AP

The Department of Health also added Iran, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Burma and parts of northern Italy to the list of places where travellers need to follow clinical advice.

As virus cases rose outside of China - where the disease originated from - deaths from the disease slowed in the country.

China has reported 78,064 cases and 2,715 deaths - 52 of which took place overnight, a significant slowdown than in recent weeks, for example, 150 deaths were reported overnight from Sunday to Monday.

Clusters of the viral pneumonia continue to balloon outside mainland China. Credit: AP

On Wednesday, Dr Bruce Aylward, who led the joint World Health Organistation-Chinese mission to Wuhan, the centre of the outbreak, said countries across the world should "prepare for a potential pandemic".

He added China had taken "extraordinary" measures to combat the virus, but said other nations were "simply not ready" for reining in the outbreak.

But WHO's regional director for Europe, Dr Hans Kluge, said "there is no need for a panic".

Outside of China, Iran has the highest number of deaths with at least 50 reported amid fears the spread of the illness could be much worse that stated.

South Korea has the second highest number of cases with 1,261 and 11 deaths.