Soap and water is enough the department says, but schools can go beyond the guidelines and use gels
By Arthur Strain
New uniforms, sharpened pencils and scrubbed faces are the usual signs of the start of the new term.
But with swine flu still running high in the headlines some schools are going beyond the soap and water standard to reinforce the cleanliness message.
As a result, pupils at Carrickfergus Model Primary School have been taking a bit longer to get to class this week.
Pupils were lining up to get hand-wipes as they entered the school to kill off germs before they took their seats on Monday morning.
The Department of Education says that soap and water are enough to keep the virus at bay, but principal Gary Hanley said the school wants to keep the cleanliness message high on the agenda.
Schools can go beyond the department's recommendations on precautions and the Model is one which has.
There are sanitising gels in the classroom and Monday's hand-wipe effort was one more way of raising the profile.
Mr Hanley said that the pupils had taken the measure in their stride and that they had a high awareness of swine flu and the measures being taken to prevent it.
It is expected that the number of swine flu cases will rise in the autumn and winter. The most recent figure for the number of laboratory confirmed cases in Northern Ireland was 160.
The Department of Health's updated planning assumptions indicate that in Northern Ireland during the peak of the pandemic, approximately 113,000 people could contract swine flu in one week.
Most people who catch swine flu will have a mild dose, but for some it can be a serious illness.
Schools will not be immune to the impact and principals have been keen the spread the message of not spreading germs among their charges.
"We can ensure that when the children come into school their hands are clean," Mr Hanley said.
"It is essentially a belt-and-braces job, more aimed at raising the issue of how important hand washing is.
"We hope that we are encouraging a good habit and that it will stick."
He said that the morning hand-wipes would be a short-term measure, and that the school was committed to doing all it could to stop the spread of swine-flu.
"We want parents to see that we are doing all in our power to stop the spread of infection," he added.