Some Ballarat schools are asking students who have visited China and several other Asian countries over the holidays to delay their return to school to halt any potential spread of the deadly coronavirus.
Ballarat Clarendon College principal David Shepherd sent a letter to parents on Tuesday outlining strict procedures for boarding students from China, Hong Kong and Macau who returned to their families over the summer break, and measures to isolate any potential cases among students who might have visited China recently, or spent time with family or friends from China.
Boarders who returned to family in China, Hong Kong and Macau in recent weeks have been told to postpone their return to school for 14 days after their return to Australia irrespective of any symptoms.
They must also provide a medical certificate before returning to school.
We’ve set up a dedicated hotline for Victorians and visitors who need more information about coronavirus. Please visit https://t.co/UUbvbBocWK and if you still have questions we’re here to help on 1800 675 398. Please save 000 for emergencies #springst— Jenny Mikakos MP (@JennyMikakos) January 25, 2020
Any other students who travelled to China over the holidays or had extensive contact with family or friends visiting from China must follow the same precautions.
Mr Shepherd admitted the school was being conservative in its isolation measures to ensure the safety of the wider school community.
"We acknowledge that our requirement for students to remain away from school for 14 days is conservative; we choose, however, to be cautious in these circumstances to ensure the health and safety of all within our care."
But excluded students are expected to keep up with their schoolwork, with classwork posted on an online portal and students encouraged to email their teachers.
The school has been in contact with families based in China, Hong Kong and Macau over the past few days to discuss logistics and arrangements.
Ballarat Grammar is believed to be instituting similar precautions to avoid the spread of the disease, which has killed 106 people in China.
Their cautious approach though is at odds with advice from Victoria's chief health officer, who said children and staff who had recently travelled to Wuhan City and who were well could attend school but should be closely monitored for symptoms.
Dr Brett Sutton said schools should remain vigilant, but exclusion was only required for anyone who was unwell, was confirmed to have novel coronavirus, or who had been in close contact with a confirmed case.
"Any child or staff member who has been in close contact with a confirmed case should not attend school or childcare for 14 days after their last contact," Dr Sutton said.
"Students or staff who have travelled to Wuhan City or other areas with confirmed cases of the illness can return to school but should be monitored for symptoms of respiratory illness."
With thousands of international university students also expected back on campuses in the coming month, tertiary institutions are also implementing health policies to help contain any potential coronavirus cases.
Federation University has hundreds of international students expected back next month.
"Federation University is in the process of contacting all of our students and advising them of th epublic health plans in place to manage coronavirus," said Federation University vice chancellor Professor Helen Bartlett.
There has been one confirmed case of novel coronavirus in Victoria. If you travelled to Wuhan, China in the past 14 days and have a cough, sore throat, or shortness of breath call the the dedicated hotline on 1800 675 398 and visit https://t.co/YDDYtOATQB for more information. pic.twitter.com/M7C3IZxCUa— VicGovDHHS (@VicGovDHHS) January 26, 2020
"We have no record as yet of any students from the affected regions returning to the university."
There have been five confirmed cases in Australia, including one in Melbourne, but Dr Sutton said there had been no human to human transmission of the new virus in Australia.
Coronavirus symptoms resemble the flu, mainly fever but could also include cough, sore throat, shortness of breath, body aches and fatigue.
Dr Sutton said anyone feeling unwell and suspected of having the illness should be isolated, phone ahead to a doctor or hospital emergency so arrangements can be made to see them while avoiding contact with other patients,
A Ballarat Health Services spokesperson said the hospital ED was following Department of Health and Human Services advice regarding the disease.
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