Throughout the Second World War Eton College was adamant it would not close its doors as a result of any threat from the Germans. It would not, its then headmaster Claude Elliot said, countenance such a lack of defiance.
Indeed, nobody yesterday could recall a time in living memory when the 569-year-old school had been forced to shut its doors. That was until it became the latest victim of swine flu. In an email to parents Eton confirmed that a 13-year-old pupil had tested positive for the disease and as a result the school, founded in 1440 by Henry VI, is to remain shut until Sunday week on the advice of health authorities.
The closure comes in the middle of important A-level and GCSE examinations for its pupils and last night staff at the school had to put in place emergency arrangements for boys to sit their exams with the objective of minimising the risk of spreading the infection – but allowing exams to go ahead. The boarding school is asking every exam candidate not displaying symptoms of the disease to report back to the school on the night before their exam.
Their temperature will then be taken and – if they show no symptoms then or the following morning – they will be allowed into classrooms the following morning to sit their exams.
However, it was being privately acknowledged last night that the arrangements could cause problems for some of the parents of boys at the school – because their high powered jobs would take them away from home and they would have made no arrangements for child care.
Andrew Wynn, the school's bursar, said: "The boy has a mild illness and is now recovering at home. The school is currently closed for half term and had been due to re-open on Sunday 31 May. The Health Protection Agency has strongly advised that the school should close in line with national guidance.
"Following discussion with the HPA, the school plans to remain closed until June 7 and boys who are due to sit public examinations will be allowed to return under controlled conditions. The HPA is following up pupils who have been in contact with the boy that tested positive. The objective is to minimise the spread of infection while allowing boys to take their public examinations."
Any pupil exhibiting symptoms of a flu-like illness has been told they should remain at home until they are fully recovered. Parents have been told they will be contacted again if a more prolonged closure of the school is necessary. At present it is planned to reopen on Sunday week – giving pupils an extra week's break.
The school, with fees of around £30,000 a year, has taught the sons of royalty and nurtured several British Prime Ministers over the centuries. The Conservative party leader David Cameron and Mayor of London Boris Johnson are among its former alumni. It also taught Princes William and Harry. It currently has around 1,300 pupils on roll.
The Eton outbreak brought the number of swine flu cases in the UK to more than 200 for the first time yesterday. A further 17 people were diagnosed with the disease. The cases include 13 children and one adult at Welford primary school in Handsworth, Birmingham, which is already linked to 50 cases of the infection.
Two adults in London, one a returning traveller and one linked to a previously confirmed case, and a child in the east of England whose source of infection remains under investigation make up the remainder, the HPA said.
Earlier yesterday, health officials revealed that British scientists have produced a strain of the swine flu virus suitable for vaccine manufacture. The move was described as a "crucial step" towards the large scale production of a vaccine against the disease by the Health Protection Agency.
Sick list: Schools hit hard
* In all, 15 schools have closed as a result of swine flu – most of them reopening after a fortnight.
* Welford Primary School in Birmingham had 63 cases.
* Alleyn's, a private school in south-west London, had 11.
* Hampton, another private school near Twickenham, has three.
* Dolphin School, south London, and South Hampstead girls' school were among the first closures.
* Ravenscraig Primary School and Ladybird Nursery School – both in Greenock – were also closed.
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