First swine flu closure hits Wales

23rd October 2009 at 01:00
Staff shortages force Carmarthenshire primary to shut its doors

A swine flu outbreak has forced the first closure of a school in Wales.

Headteacher Gareth Owen took the decision to close Pontyberem Primary School in Carmarthenshire on Tuesday afternoon because of staff shortages.

Carmarthenshire Council said seven members of staff - five teachers and two classroom assistants - making up around half the total, had fallen ill, along with a "high number" of pupils.

Officials said that up to 70 of the school's 120 pupils had reported flu- like symptoms over the last week.

The Assembly government confirmed that Pontyberem was the first school in Wales to close due to swine flu. It is planning to re-open after the half- term break.

An Assembly government spokeswoman said decisions on school closures are taken locally on the advice of health protection teams.

"We have robust plans in place which are being implemented to manage swine flu in Wales. Comprehensive guidance has been issued to schools on reducing the spread of swine flu. We are continually monitoring the situation and will be updating guidance to schools as and when appropriate.

"Parents and learners should be reassured that the World Health Organisation has rated the UK's planning for pandemic flu as extremely high and our contingency planning for education in Wales is thorough."

The closure came as the Welsh NHS began vaccinating 750,000 people against swine flu.

According to the National Public Health Service for Wales (NPHS), levels of flu have risen in the last month and are higher than usual for the time of year.

The latest figures show that there were 27 patients in hospital in connection with swine flu, with five in critical care. So far four people with swine flu have died in Wales.

Angela Jones, acting consultant in health protection for NPHS, said "As we are entering the winter months and as the pandemic continues, we expect to see a rise in the number of cases of swine flu.

"By following public health advice if they become ill and taking up the swine flu vaccine when it becomes available, people can help prevent the spread of the virus and by the same token help prevent death and serious disease."

Before the summer break, a number of headteachers told TES Cymru that cash-strapped schools may be forced to close in the event of an autumn outbreak because they could not afford to employ cover staff. A number of schools have been hit by small outbreaks but have managed to stay open.

Opposition politicians accused the Assembly government of complacency over the risk posed to schools by swine flu and attacked financial contingency plans.

But the government said such accusations were "inaccurate and irresponsible."

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