If you have a query about coronavirus (COVID-19), contact the DfE's helpline on 0800 046 8687 - lines are open Monday to Friday between 8am and 6pm (excluding bank holidays).
What is coronavirus?
Coronavirus is a type of virus which is part of a group of viruses that are common across the world. Typical symptoms of the virus include a fever and cough that may develop into severe pneumonia, causing shortness of breath and breathing difficulties.
Severe symptoms are usually caused in people that have weakened immune systems, older people, and those with long-term conditions, such as diabetes and chronic lung disease.
Novel coronavirus (named COVID-19) is a new strain of coronavirus that was first identified in China.
The incubation period is between 2 and 14 days – if a person remains well for 14 days after contact with someone with confirmed coronavirus, this means they have not been infected.
Coronavirus is likely to spread when there is close contact (within two metres or less) with an infected person. Currently, there is no good evidence to suggest that people who are not presenting symptoms are infectious to others.
Is the UK at risk?
While there have been several confirmed cases in the UK since the initial outbreak, the overall risk of coronavirus to the UK is moderate. The government will be closely monitoring the spread of the virus and taking action in the UK and abroad where necessary. The Department of Health and Social Care and Public Health England (PHE) will publish updated data on coronavirus on this page at 2pm every day until further notice.
To reduce the risk so far, the government has introduced advanced monitoring at airports that have direct flights from China, and issued clinical guidance for the detection and diagnosis of coronavirus and infection prevention and control. The NHS and PHE also have an established plan to respond to someone who contracts the virus.
The government’s priority is to ensure UK residents and travellers are provided with up-to-date information so that they know what to do if they experience symptoms.
What action should schools take?
It is understandable that some people may be concerned when there are pupils or staff returning from or visiting China.
Schools should advise parents that they should not be overly worried about the possibility of their children contracting the virus, and that they should continue to send their children to school as normal. Staff should also be encouraged to come to work as usual.
Schools should approach the virus like any other infectious disease and the following action should be taken:
To prevent the spread of infection
A UK-wide campaign has been launched to provide clear advice on how to slow the spread of coronavirus. Schools are encouraged to support the campaign and promote the following practices:
- Washing hands often with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand sanitiser that contains at least 60 percent alcohol
- Catching coughs or sneezes with tissues, then throwing the tissue in a bin
- Ensuring people who feel unwell stay at home and do not attend work or school
- Encouraging pupils, staff and visitors to wash their hands:
- Before leaving home.
- On arrival at the school.
- After using the toilet.
- After breaks and sporting activities.
- Before preparing food.
- Before eating any food.
- Before leaving school.
- Avoiding touching eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands
- Avoiding close contact with people who are unwell
- Cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched objects and surfaces
The above information can be displayed in busy areas of schools, e.g. staff rooms, toilets or common rooms, to ensure it is accessible for all. Schools can also share links to relevant information on their social media platforms, in newsletters, or through other correspondence with parents.
PHE has developed a poster that schools can display around their premises, which is available here.
If someone becomes unwell and believes they have been exposed to coronavirus
Schools should dial 111 (or 999 if a person is seriously ill or their life is at risk) and, if appropriate, explain which country the individual has returned from in the last 14 days.
Whilst waiting for advice or an ambulance to arrive, the person should be kept at least two metres away from other people. If possible, they should be sat in a room where they can be isolated behind a closed door, e.g. a staff meeting room. The room must be cleaned once they leave.
If they have to use the bathroom whilst waiting, they should use a separate bathroom to other people.
Pupils must be told that they need to tell a member of staff if they feel unwell.
If a case of coronavirus is suspected
There is no need to send pupils or members of staff home unless test results confirm that an individual is infected with coronavirus. If a child is suspected of having contracted the disease, their parents are responsible for informing the school that their child will be absent to get tested, or because the child needs to self-isolate.
The whole school should not be told that an individual is undergoing testing – only once a positive diagnosis is confirmed should further action be taken.
If a case of coronavirus is confirmed
Schools will be informed directly by the local PHE Health Protection Team when someone is confirmed to have the virus – they will discuss the case, identify people who have been in contact with the person, and advise on any actions or precautions that should be taken.
A risk assessment will be undertaken by the school, with advice from the local Health Protection Team, to determine whether further action is required. In most cases, closure of the school will not be necessary; however, this will be a decision made based on local factors.
People who test negative for the virus will be advised individually about their return to education.
If people are close contacts of a confirmed case
Pupils or staff who are considered contacts are those that:
- Have had close face-to-face or touching contact with the confirmed case, including those undertaking small group work (within two metres for more than 15 minutes).
- Have spoken with, or been coughed on for any length of time by, the individual while they are symptomatic.
- Have cleaned up any bodily fluids of the individual.
- Are part of a close friendship group with the individual.
- Live in the same household or equivalent, e.g. boarding school dormitory, as the individual.
If contacts are well, they are unlikely to have spread the infection to others; however, they will be asked to self-isolate and told to take further action if any symptoms develop.
Outside of those who are defined as close contacts, the rest of the school will not need to take any precautions or make changes to their own activities, unless they become unwell – in which case, they will be assessed as a suspected case depending on their symptoms.
If someone has travelled from China or elsewhere
If a person has travelled from Wuhan City and Hubei Province in China, Iran, Daegu or Cheongdo (Republic of Korea), or any Italian town under containment measures within the last 14 days, and is currently well, they should be advised to self-isolate for 14 days and the school should refer to the advice for contacts of confirmed cases.
If the individual does become unwell, they should call 111 immediately to be assessed and the school should follow the advice for contacts of confirmed cases. If, at any point, an individual requires emergency medical attention, call 999 and tell the call handler that the person has a history of recent travel to a risk area for COVID-19.
If an individual has travelled from Cambodia, any area of China not mentioned above, Hong Kong, the North of Italy, Japan, Laos, Macau, Malaysia, Myanmar, any other area of the Republic of Korea, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand or Vietnam within the last 14 days, and they are well, they can continue to attend school or work as normal. If they do become unwell, they should self-isolate and call 111 to be assessed.
If a person has travelled from any other part of the world within the last 14 days, there is no need to advise them to avoid normal activities or the school, unless they have had contact with a confirmed coronavirus case.
If a school trip has returned from any of the countries listed above, schools should follow the same advice for pupils and staff who attended the trip.
- The DfE and PHE have issued guidance to schools regarding the virus, and schools affected by coronavirus outbreaks in their areas have already been given bespoke information by their LAs – it’s important to stay on top of all information provided by LAs and the government, share it will pupils and their families, and act accordingly.
- Further information on the prevention and control of coronavirus can be found here.
DfE (2020) ‘Coronavirus – Advice for all early years providers, schools and further education providers’
Department of Health and Social Care and PHE (2020) ‘Coronavirus (COVID-19): latest information and advice’, <https://www.gov.uk/guidance/wuhan-novel-coronavirus-information-for-the-public#advice-for-travellers> [Accessed: 14 February 2020]
Ferguson, D., (2020) ‘Coronavirus: UK headteachers told to stay calm and keep schools open’, <https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/feb/16/headteachers-are-told-to-stay-calm-and-keep-schools-open> [Accessed: 17 February 2020]
HM Government (2020) ‘Coronavirus: Public Information’
Public Health England (2020) ‘COVID-19: Specified countries and areas with implications for returning travellers or visitors arriving in the UK’, <https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/covid-19-specified-countries-and-areas/covid-19-specified-countries-and-areas-with-implications-for-returning-travellers-or-visitors-arriving-in-the-uk> [Accessed: 26 February 2020]
Public Health England (2020) ‘Guidance to educational settings about COVID-19’, <https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/guidance-to-educational-settings-about-covid-19> [Accessed: 19 February 2020]