Coronavirus: NI schools cancel ski trips over Italian outbreak

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image captionSacred Heart Grammar and Dunclug College were due to leave for Folgaria on Saturday

Two schools in Northern Ireland have cancelled ski trips to Italy amid concerns over the coronavirus outbreak.

Sacred Heart Grammar in Newry and Dunclug College in Ballymena were both due to leave for Folgaria on Saturday.

In a message sent to parents, Sacred Heart Grammar said the decision was made following "careful deliberation".

Dunclug College's website said its pupils were to be staying about an hour and 40 minutes from one of the 11 affected areas.

The decisions come after pupils and staff from three Northern Ireland schools who were recently on school trips to Italy were sent home due to coronavirus concerns.

Cambridge House Grammar sent its pupils home to self-isolate for 14 days.

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image captionThe Public Health Agency has advised against all but essential travel to 11 towns in Italy

Four schools in England also shut completely for a "deep clean" after pupils came back from skiing trips.

The Foreign Office updated its travel advice on Tuesday, warning against all but essential travel to 11 quarantined towns in Italy.

The government said anyone returning from those towns must self-isolate.

Analysis by Robbie Meredith, BBC News NI education correspondent

Sacred Heart Grammar Newry and Dunclug College might be the first schools to cancel trips to northern Italy but they are unlikely to be the last.

The chief medical officer held a conference call on Friday afternoon with over 10 schools due to go on similar trips in the next few weeks.

I understand that conference call lasted for more than an hour.

But as the Foreign and Commonwealth Office has not formally advised against travel to Italy - apart from 11 named towns - Dr Michael McBride could advise schools but he could not tell them not to travel.

That means principals have to face the difficult decision whether to continue with planned trips or not.

It is no surprise that some have already decided the risks are too high, even if that may come at a financial cost to schools or parents.

In a statement on the Dunclug College website, principle Ruth Wilson said she was "grateful and reassured" the vast majority of parents expressed "understanding and relief" at the decision.

"On balance, it was the best judgement call in the circumstances given the suddenness of the outbreak in Italy and the limited time frame for a decision," she said.

Mrs Wilson added: "The school will seek to do its part to seek any alternative offers, or to assist with costs to those involved."

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