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Swine flu fails to halt English schools

Schools in England will reopen as usual next week despite the continuing swine flu outbreak.

The Government had announced at the beginning of the summer holidays that it would monitor the situation and announce any change to the current advice this week.

With numbers of cases declining, it is expected that, at the moment, schools should stay open, unless advised otherwise.

Some experts have warned the reopening of schools and universities could prompt a surge in the number of cases in the next two months.

But Sir Liam Donaldson, the chief medical officer, has said it is "virtually impossible" to predict accurately when a second wave of swine flu will hit the UK.

The Department of Health has now fast-tracked 14 research projects to help combat the outbreak. These include an investigation into whether school closures can slow the spread of swine flu.

Researchers on the project, which is being led by Dr Ken Eames at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, will ask 800 pupils to fill in a questionnaire to describe the social contacts they make during the day, both when their school is closed and open.

It follows a paper published in The Lancet Infectious Diseases last month, which found that school closures have to be handled very carefully.

Dr Simon Cauchemez of Imperial College, University of London, was one of the joint authors of that paper.

He said: "If schools close for a long time and working parents take each others' children so they can go to work, there might be very little impact on the spread of the disease."

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