It is impossible to predict when the next pandemic might occur or how severe its consequences might be. On average, three pandemics per century have been documented since the 16th century, occurring at intervals of 10 – 50 years. In the 20th century, pandemics occurred in 1918, 1957 and 1968. The pandemic of 1918 is estimated to have killed more than 40 million people in less than a year, with peak mortality rates occurring in those aged 20 – 45 years. The pandemics of 1957 and 1968 were milder with 1 – 4 million estimated deaths primarily in traditional groups such as the elderly, but many countries nevertheless experienced strains on health-care resources. If an influenza pandemic virus were to appear again similar to the 1918 strain, even taking account of recent medical advances, unparalleled tolls of illness and death could be expected. Air travel would hasten the spread of transmission of the virus and decrease the time available for preparing intervention. Although it is not considered too feasible to halt the spread of a pandemic virus, it should be possible to minimize its consequences through advance preparation. This note, which will be reviewed and re-issued annually, sets out guidelines in the event of a pandemic together with the school’s policy in relation to the control and prevention of flu-like symptoms as a matter of routine.
The World Health Organisation (WHO)
The WHO constantly monitors the various flu-type viruses that emerge each year and categorises the development of each within five defined phases, with particular concern where there is evidence that a virus that emanated in animals or birds has become adapted to humans. At Phase 4, international air travel is likely to be compromised. In any boarding environment with overseas students, this would be a significant milestone. The Principal will routinely monitor the WHO categorisation of virus developments and advise the staff of unusual or worrying developments. Advice will also be issued through the ISBA, MOSA and the Pandemic Influenza Planning Group established in the Health Protection Agency.
Advice to all sectors is that they should seek to continue operating as normally as possible during a pandemic, but should plan for much higher than usual levels of staff absence and the consequences as well as for other possible disruption resulting from the pandemic’s impact on other services. However, schools are potentially different from other settings. Children are highly efficient “spreaders” of respiratory infections, amongst themselves and to adults. There is some evidence that such infections spread less amongst children in holiday periods than in term-time. Thus, closing school for a period might reduce significantly the number of children infected. Once the nature of any future pandemic is detected, the Government may advise schools to close for a stated period. Our response to any pandemic should cover both closure and the school remaining open.
The School’s Response
The Principal is responsible for co-ordinating the school’s response which will be graduated according to what may be a quickly changing scenario. Unless directed to close, the aim will be to conduct business as normal within the following:
The school does not have the facilities to treat those suffering from influenza. Staff and children feeling unwell or displaying symptoms such as a high temperature will be sent home immediately.
Pupils and staff deemed to be at high risk due to pre-existing conditions should be advised to stay at home for all or part of any pandemic.
Central Government, through the SEELB, will advise on any mandatory closure of the school when children and staff would be sent home with the school reverting to its normal security posture for periods of closure. Should local conditions, such as general shortages of food, the disruption of power supplies, or insufficient staff to ensure the proper supervision or first-aid medical care for children occur, the Principal will inform the Chairman of Governors and the SEELB accordingly and order closure.
As a matter of course during the traditional “flu season” from Nov – Mar, pupils and staff should be actively encouraged to minimise potential influenza transmission through good hygiene measures as follows:
- By covering the nose and mouth with single-use disposable tissues when sneezing, coughing, wiping and blowing noses.
- By disposing of used tissues in the nearest waste bin.
- By keeping hands away from the mucous membranes of the eyes and nose.
If and when instructed by the Principal, all cleaning staff are to be issued with medicated face-masks which are to be worn when employed on cleaning duties.
The Building Supervisor is to ensure that receptacles containing sealable plastic bags are deployed around the school for the collection of used paper tissues. They are to be emptied on a daily basis and disposed of in sealed plastic bags: if practical, they should be burnt.
The Building Supervisor is to hold three months’ stocks of latex gloves, medicated face masks and suitable plastic bags. Perishable stocks are to be turned-over on a regular basis.
It is difficult to determine in advance the likely consequences for the school in the event of a major pandemic. The school should continue to function unless instructed to close or in the event of local conditions making continuation impossible or unsafe. Flexibility would be required by all staff, with due emphasis at all levels being given to minimising the risk through good and responsible personal and general hygiene.