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Schools won’t be shut to stop swine flu spreading

22-07-2009

Belfast Telegraph


There are no plans to implement a blanket closure of schools across Northern Ireland in September to help stop a surge in swine flu cases, the Department of Education has said.

Scientists from Imperial College London say studies suggest such a move could reduce the number of infections by up to 45%.

In response, a spokeswoman from the Department of Health said the issue of school closure has been a consideration in planning for the management of the swine flu pandemic.

But she said: “There are no plans at present to extend school closure beyond the normal holiday period. Decisions will be based on the extent of swine flu in the community at that time and the experience gained from school closure elsewhere.”

It is thought the drastic step of closing schools across Ulster would not be in keeping with the UK-wide approach to dealing with the swine flu pandemic, which has changed from containment to treatment in recent weeks.

A spokesman from the Department of Education said the move would only be implemented on the advice of the Public Health Agency — which ordered the closure of a Newry primary school after a pupil was diagnosed with swine flu before the end of the school year.

Previously, the departments of Health and Education said schools would only be closed in exceptional circumstances.

School closures in the autumn to curb the number of swine flu infections are unlikely at the moment and would have an “extremely disruptive” effect on society, Chief Medical Officer in England Sir Liam Donaldson said.

The recommendation from Imperial College scientists comes as health chiefs here warned the worst of the swine flu pandemic is yet to hit Northern Ireland — but insisted they will cope with any emergency.

Chief Medical Officer Dr Michael McBride moved to allay fears over the spread of swine flu and stressed there will be enough anti-virals, vaccines and cash to fight the virus. He pledged a Northern Ireland-wide vaccination programme will be completed by the end of 2010.

“We are well placed in terms of vaccines and it is important we bear this in mind. We will do what we need to do.”

Health chiefs have urged pregnant women and other high risk groups, to use a common sense approach to reducing risk.

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