Further Statement on the Closure of Schools

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The Government yesterday announced the closure of four schools after it was advised of the presence of legionella bacteria in parts of the water system at some of our schools. The Government, acting on the advice of the Director of Public Health, has closed St Bernard’s Lower Primary, St Bernard’s Upper Primary, St Joseph’s Lower Primary and St Joseph’s Upper Primary. The water system at these four schools will now be subjected to a hypochlorination treatment.

In the lead-up to the reopening of schools, which had been closed during the lockdown, the Department of Education arranged for schools to be inspected. The Department of Education also decided that part of the inspection process should include the checking of the water and that it should engage with the Environmental Agency on this.

The Environmental Agency visited the schools and identified for testing the water outlets which they felt could be susceptible to bacterial growth. The tests were carried out over the 18 and 19 May 2020. The Environmental Agency advised that although the schools’ infrastructures are relatively low risk, the use of the stations from where samples had been taken should be restricted as a precaution. As a result, all water outlets which were tested were isolated from use and covered.

Last week, the Environmental Agency advised that they had been notified of an indication of legionella bacteria only in a shower head in part of the old Bayside school which had not been used for a substantial period and which was not part of Governor’s Meadow school. Additionally, there was an indication of some bacterial growth in water outlets tested in three other schools. There was no confirmation at that time of legionella bacteria in these three schools. As a result of these indications and as a precaution, the entire water system in these four schools was subjected to hypochlorination treatment.

The final results of the tests carried out on 18 and 19 May were received by the Government on 1 June. The results indicate that, on the date tested, legionella bacteria was present in some of the water outlets in schools which had subsequent to testing been subjected to hypochlorination treatment. The bacteria was also found in the samples that had been taken from one tap at St Bernard’s Upper Primary, a boiler outlet at St Bernard’s Lower Primary and a shower head and one tap at St Joseph’s Upper Primary. The Government consulted the Director of Public Health who advised that the schools which had not yet been treated should be closed. As an abundance of caution, the Government also decided to close St Joseph’s Lower Primary.

These four schools will be closed until the hypochlorination treatment of the entire water systems are completed. In addition, the College, which had not been tested, will be closed to allow for hypochlorination. This again follows advice received from the Director of Public Health.

The Department of Education is considering what arrangements can be made for pupils of these four schools to attend other schools whilst their schools remain closed. Parents will be advised of any such arrangements through the normal school channels.

The Minister for Education, the Hon Gilbert Licudi QC MP, said: “The Government has acted swiftly to protect staff and students. We will continue to do everything that is required to make sure that schools are safe. We have acted immediately and in keeping with expert advice and will continue to do so. Nothing comes before the safety and security of our pupils and staff.”

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