Coronavirus UK: First confirmed case at London school as teacher falls ill

2 March 2020, 08:53

Wimbledon College has been forced to close its doors. Right, a man protects his face on the streets of London
Wimbledon College has been forced to close its doors. Right, a man protects his face on the streets of London. Picture: Google/PA

By Asher McShane

A secondary school in London has been forced to close its doors due to a confirmed case of coronavirus.

A letter was sent to parents informing them that Wimbledon College in south west London has been closed after a staff member tested positive for Covid-19.

School officials said they had closed after the staff member travelled to Italy and became ill.

The college told parents that the staff member was last in school on the morning of February 25 and had not had contact with pupils since the beginning of the half term.

Wimbledon College has closed due to a staff member catching coronavirus
Wimbledon College has closed due to a staff member catching coronavirus. Picture: Google

Other staff members who were in contact with the stricken individual have been told to self-isolate for two weeks.

As a result the school was forced to close.

The school will re-open on March 10 after a deep clean.

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Public Health England said there was no increased risk to children at the school.

Wimbledon College counts actor Tom Holland and comedian Paul Merton among former students. It is understood to be the first London school to have a case of coronavirus.

At least 10 primary and secondary schools closed over the last week, as the country's top medic said long-term closures would be a possibility during a pandemic of Covid-19.

Moorlands infant and junior schools in Bath closed for the first time on Friday, after a member of the school community developed symptoms after travelling abroad.

Acting head teacher Warrick Barton said in a statement: "I hope that you will understand that I have taken this decision with children's health as the first priority, as well as the health of the whole school community.

"This is very much a precautionary measure, but one that puts children first."

The ill person is said to have been to a "category two" country in the last 14 days, which could include China (but not Wuhan city or Hubei province), northern Italy, Japan or Singapore, among others.

Burbage Primary School in Buxton, Derbyshire, also remained closed on Friday, after a parent was thought to have contracted the illness while on holiday in Tenerife.

Cransley School in Cheshire closed on Tuesday after a number of students and staff who went on a ski trip to northern Italy over half-term began showing flu-like symptoms, and is yet to reopen, as is Trinity Catholic College in Middlesbrough.

Dulwich Prep School in south London took the decision to close on Thursday, after a number of pupils fell ill after travelling during the half-term break and were due to be tested.

The school has not yet confirmed whether it will reopen on Monday.

In the middle of the week, Public Health England (PHE) advised schools to stay open, with medical director Paul Cosford saying: "Schools have to face difficult decisions, given the complexity of issues that they are facing.

"What I would say is that our general advice is not to close schools."

However, when asked about what public safety steps would be taken in the UK if the illness becomes a pandemic, Chief Medical Officer of England and Wales Professor Chris Whitty later said schools may face long-term closure.

He told the Nuffield Trust Summit on Thursday: "Everybody knows that the kinds of things you consider - reducing mass gatherings, school closures, which may or may not be appropriate for this particular virus. We don't know yet. We need to find that out.

"Now, to be clear, we're not saying we will do them, but we have to look at all of them and say: how likely are they to work? And what's our evidence base here? What's the social cost of this?

"Because one of the things, frankly, with this virus, much more so than flu, is whatever we do we're going to have to do for quite a long period of time, probably more than two months."