SCHOOLS could close for more than two months if the coronavirus outbreak becomes a pandemic, the Chief Medical Officer has warned.

Chris Whitty said that there could be a "social cost" if the virus intensifies resulting in a reduction of mass gatherings, which would see the closure of schools.

Whitty, who is also Chief Medical Adviser to the UK Government, said: "One of the things that’s really clear with this virus, much more so than flu, is that anything we do we’re going to have to do for quite a long period of time, probably more than two months.

“The implications of that are non-trivial, so we need to think that through carefully.

“This is something we face as really quite a serious problem for society potentially if this goes out of control. It may not but if it does globally then we may have to face that.”

He added that the UK would not be exempt in the event of a global pandemic.

Health Minister, Matt Hancock, reacted to the CMO's statement, saying "we do want to minimise social and economic disruption subject to keeping people safe" before conceding “of course that is always going to be a balance. We’re going to be led by the scientific advice into what works.”

The Advertiser reported yesterday that Woodrush High School in Wythall has asked pupils and staff to self-isolate as a precaution.

Members of Woodrush High School who attended a skiing trip to Falcade in Veneto in northern Italy during half term have been told to stay at home for two weeks.

Northern Italy is a hotspot for the virus which has caused nearly 3,000 deaths since the outbreak began in China.

In a statement, the Sawhurst Lane school said: "Following advice and conversations with Public Health England, as a precautionary measure we have directed those who attended the trip to self-isolate for 2 weeks.

"These precautionary measures only apply to those who have directly been on this trip.

"Public Health England have also advised us to remain open at this time as risk to other students and staff is minimal.

"The well-being of our students and staff and our local community remain our priority and we will continue to communicate with parents and carers if there are any updates in the on-going development of the advice given by Public Health England.

Meanwhile, a letter has been sent out to parents of youngsters at Alvechurch CofE Middle School.

A large number of pupils and staff were on a skiing trip in northern Italy.

A spokesperson for Alvechurch Middle School said: “We have a ski trip returning on Saturday from northern Italy. We are following the Public Health guidance for returning travellers from that region and as a precaution have ensured that this guidance has been with shared with parents.”