No sick leave for schools
reports on measures to halt the spread of swine flu in schools
Despite the growing number of swine flu cases and official warnings that the virus may return in a more aggressive form in the autumn, a month ahead of the beginning of the school year on 26 September the Ministry of Health has announced that there are no plans to close schools to halt the disease. Health Ministry spokesman Abdel-Rahman Shahin insists that closing schools remains a last resort. "Shutting them down does not mean that the disease will be contained. Children will go out and play, or otherwise interact, with other children in their neighbourhood," he said.
The Ministry of Health does, however, have plans to distribute four million litres of disinfectants to 35,000 schools.
"School administrators must ensure that bathrooms, classrooms, laboratories and all surfaces which students might touch are clean," says Shahin. In addition, students are being asked to wash their hands with soap and water every two hours. "Parents should also provide each of their children with a clean cloth with which to wipe both their desks and chairs. We also recommend that they be provided with wet wipes and hand gel during school hours. Students should also refrain from unnecessary contact with surfaces such as floors, walls and handrails," says Shahin.
A joint committee comprising senior officials from both the health and education ministries has been charged with following up on the situation and making recommendations as, and when, they are necessary.
The Ministry of Health has already printed thousands of leaflets to be distributed among pupils during the first week of the school year. Awareness campaigns informing students and teachers of the importance of preventative hygiene are also planned.
"Schools will be required to report any suspected cases of swine flu to both the ministries of education and health," says Shahin.
Students suspected of carrying the virus will be moved to an empty room until a doctor arrives to examine them. Only those with severe symptoms will be admitted to hospital. Pupils with mild symptoms will be treated at home.
"Parents and teachers will both receive instructions on how to deal with a sick child," says Shahin.
The ministry will monitor the situation in schools via the 63 video conference sites it maintains with school principals, says Reda Abu Serie, deputy minister of education and member of the joint committee. "The sites will be used to train headmasters, teachers and parents on how to deal with a sick child and will include regular updates on the spread of the H1N1 virus among students."
In addition, says Abu Serie, trustees will be informed immediately of any confirmed infections in their schools. The move is intended to halt the spread of rumours.
Pupils who test positive for swine flu will be quarantined, as will anyone who has been in close contact with them. The quarantine period, in either hospital or home depending on individual circumstances, has been set at 15 days. "This is double the incubation period of the virus and is intended to guarantee full recovery," says Shahin.
Students will be requested to continue studying on their own during quarantine in order not to fall behind in their schoolwork. "Should several classes in a single school have to be closed then pupils certainly will be provided with additional classes in order to catch up," says Abu Serie.
Any last resort closure orders will be issued by health and education officials.
Confirmed infections of swine flu have reached an average of 90 cases per week. The Cabinet Information Decision Support Centre (IDSC) reports that of existing cases 76.6 per cent of patients have made a full recovery.
Schools may be opening as usual, but the Ministry of Health continues to urge the public to avoid large gatherings during Ramadan. Many people are expected to avoid the taraweeh prayer and even the mawaed Al-Rahman which offer free Iftar to the poor.
"We are not insisting on any extra measures during Ramadan," says Shahin. "We are certainly not going to prevent people from going to mosques and praying. All we ask is that the public behaves responsibly. If they have flu-like symptoms they should minimise their contact with others and be tested," says Shahin.