Boarding pupils face Sars tests

HUNDREDS of pupils from the Far East studying at independent schools in East Anglia could face twice-daily health checks for the deadly Sars virus when they return after the Easter holidays.

HUNDREDS of pupils from the Far East studying at independent schools in East Anglia could face twice-daily health checks for the deadly Sars virus when they return after the Easter holidays.

Schools in Suffolk say they will enforce the examinations from the start of term on April 22 as a precaution against the deadly flu-like virus – severe acute respiratory syndrome – that has swept through Hong Kong and Singapore.

More than 185 people have now died and there have been at least 3,000 cases, most in south east Asia, since the outbreak began.

It also emerged at the weekend that a quarantine centre has been set up on the Isle of Wight for boarding school pupils returning Hong Kong. About 30 schools have directed pupils there for a 10-day period – it is not yet clear whether any of those are from East Anglia.

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But many Suffolk schools where pupils are returning said steps were being taken to monitor students returning from at-risk countries.

Students' temperatures will be closely monitored during the tests, which schools have been advised to continue for 10 days.

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Headteachers say they are acting on guidelines set down by the World Health Organisation, the Medical Office of Schools Association and the Health Protection Agency.

Woodbridge School has six pupils returning from affected areas. Headmaster Stephen Cole has written to parents reassuring them that precautionary measures would be taken. He added that medical advice was "strongly against" quarantine as the risk of transmission in such circumstances was very low.

His pupils will be asked to complete a health questionnaire and will have their temperatures recorded for 10 days. Staff at the school will also be told to look out for symptoms of SARS.

He added that the school would remain in close contact with consultant microbiologists at Ipswich Hospital and public health officials.

Parents of all 404 pupils at Framlingham College have been sent letters informing them of the situation regarding the school's 40 or so pupils returning from Hong Kong and the Far East.

The letter, signed by the school's development director, Sally Armstrong, reassures parents that children will have health checks before they are allowed to fly home. All children who would normally use school coaches on part of their journey will continue to do so.

She adds: "On arrival at the college, all those students that have travelled from affected areas will be required to attend twice daily medical examinations at the college's medical centre for a period of 10 days."

A spokeswoman at Culford School, a co-educational boarding school with nearly 200 boarders in Bury St Edmunds, confirmed the school had sent letters to parents both home and abroad but could not give specific details of SARS precautions.

Some schools across the country, including Eton, have decided not to allow pupils back if they have visited high-risk areas within 10 days of the start of term.

Adrian Underwood, national director of the Boarding School Association, said: "There are no winners here. It is a rotten situation and the timing is atrocious what with the onset of GCSE and A-level examinations. The medical advice is that there is no reason why pupils from infected areas cannot return to school as long as they are carefully monitored."

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