x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Schools opening warily in era of swine flu

At least two campuses delay the resumption of classes as a precaution, while one school with confirmed cases in Abu Dhabi carries on.

A private school in Dubai has delayed its opening after a Sharjah school was shut down for one week because of concerns about swine flu. Al Salam Private School and Nursery told parents on Thursday that it would not open until tomorrow, two days late. It did not have any cases of H1N1 infection.

Meanwhile, a school in Abu Dhabi has two confirmed cases but remains open in line with instructions from authorities. A letter to parents from Al Salam school referred to the closing of a Sharjah school for one week because of suspected cases of infection. Al Salam said it had taken the decision "as a precaution". Susan Johnston, the principal, yesterday said the delay in opening was intended to calm parents.

"We have heard from lots of worried parents," she said. "Once they see that other schools have opened and it is fine, we think they will be reassured." She said the school had also employed an extra nurse to help with preventing infections of H1N1, the pathogen that causes swine flu. The British School-Al Khubairat in Abu Dhabi sent a circular to parents on Saturday telling them that a fifth-year pupil had tested positive for the virus. Yesterday, the principal, Paul Coackley, said another student had tested positive and that a third was being tested.

Two of the pupils, aged nine and 10, were in close contact over the weekend. Neither has been back at school since becoming ill, Mr Coackley said. The school has alerted parents as well as health and education authorities. "This is a situation which changes day by day and week by week," Mr Coackley said. "We have issued advice to parents and attended training sessions. We are in constant contact with the authorities."

He said that between 80 and 85 per cent of pupils had returned for the new term. The school usually operates at 90 to 95 per cent of capacity. "We have had a very calm reaction," he said. "We have children studying for exams, and it is very important that the right balance is struck between keeping parents informed and staying in touch with authorities, and taking relevant measures in the school."

He added that the school had no plans to suspend classes, but was aware it could receive orders from authorities to do so at any time. The Abu Dhabi Education Council (Adec) and the Health Authority-Abu Dhabi have held swine flu-related training sessions for teachers in schools across the emirate, issuing guidance on preventing the spread of flu and on the procedures to be followed if schools think they have cases.

Liante Payne, whose two children attend the British School, said she would not take her children, aged six and nine, out of the school because of the confirmed cases. "I can't really see why there's so much panic," she said. "A far as I can tell, people all over the world die from normal flu every year; this is just a new type of flu." The Indian High School in Dubai delayed its reopening for two days as a precaution but is now open and says it has had no problems.

Nair Surendran, deputy principal at the New Indian Model School in Dubai, said the school had not delayed its opening because it had received no order to do so but was taking precautions. "Teachers are checking all children in their classes," he said. "Any child showing symptoms is placed in quarantine while their parents are informed and then sent home to be checked by a medical practitioner." Two children had been removed from school for check-ups but had returned with certification that they did not have H1N1, he said.

munderwood@thenational.ae *With additional reporting by Leah Oatway