Australia

Schools on alert for coronavirus as students return this week

School starts in NSW and Victoria this week. Source: Getty

One Sydney private school has instructed students who have been to China over the break not to come back until they have been cleared.

As Australian students return to class after the summer holidays, debate has flared about how schools and universities should respond to the threat of coronavirus with some anxious parents demanding more precautions. 

Four patients in NSW and one in Victoria have been diagnosed with the virus after it first appeared in the Chinese city of Wuhan.

The latest case is a 21-year-old University of New South Wales student who had been living on campus after returning from a trip to Wuhan.

 

One Sydney private school has instructed students who have been to China over the break not to come back until they have been cleared.

"If your family has recently visited China, we ask that you refrain from sending your son/s to school until they have received medical clearance from a doctor," an email from Scots College told parents.

The college also said its Lunar New Year celebration on 31 January had been cancelled "as a precautionary measure".

The Scots College in Sydney.
The Scots College in Sydney.
Scots College

An online petition urging all NSW public schools to take similar action has so far garnered more than 3,000 signatures.

"We strongly urge the NSW Department of Education to officially ban students who [have] recently returned from China, to isolate themselves for two weeks after landing and prior to returning to school," it says.

"This will greatly benefit the prevention of this deadly virus into schools."

Australia is working to keep out the deadly coronavirus, as flights from China arrive in the country
Australia is working to keep out the deadly coronavirus, as flights from China arrive in the country.
AAP

Primary and high schools are set to reopen this week, with universities starting next month.

A NSW Department of Education spokesman told SBS News it is "working with NSW Health to monitor and respond to the unfolding international novel coronavirus situation".

The spokesman said students should only be excluded from school if they were confirmed to have the new strain of coronavirus or were in close contact with someone who did.

"Children and staff who have recently returned from overseas and are well, and are not close contacts of a confirmed case, are able to attend school as normal."

Victoria is also not taking any extreme measures.

"The Department of Education and Training has issued advice to schools regarding the novel coronavirus outbreak. This includes precautionary measures schools can take to stop the spread of infection," a spokesman for the department said.

"We will continue to work with the Department of Health and Human Services to ensure the most current and appropriate advice is provided to schools regarding this outbreak."

Queensland's Department of Education said: "precautionary information from Queensland Health has been distributed to all state school principals to share with their school communities ahead of the return to school".

Australian universities are also monitoring the situation ahead of students returning to campuses mid-February.

After Monday's new case, the University of New South Wales said, "the health and safety of all students and staff is UNSW's highest priority".

"UNSW will continue to review and monitor the situation and update students and staff as new information becomes available," a spokesperson said.

The University of Sydney said it had contacted students who may have been in the affected region of China to check on their health.

It urged anyone who developed respiratory symptoms after travelling to Wuhan in the last fortnight to contact their local GP or the university health service.

"We're monitoring the situation. At this stage, there's no change to the advice/update we released on Friday."

A passenger wearing a protective mask on arrival at Sydney airport.
A passenger wearing a protective mask on arrival at Sydney airport.
AAP

Some universities in the UK have warned students who went to China to celebrate Lunar New Year that they may face a quarantine period when they return.

By Monday, more than 2,700 cases of coronavirus have been confirmed worldwide and 80 people have died.

China cut off trains, planes and other links to Wuhan on 22 January, and has steadily expanded the lockdown to 16 surrounding cities with a combined population of more than 50 million.

While warning the virus seemed to be spreading more easily, China's Health Minister Ma Xiaowei said travel restrictions and other strict measures should bring results "at the lowest cost and fastest speed".

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