A further 25 Wilkes students have tested positive for coronavirus, the council’s health chief has said.

It brings the total number of covid cases linked to Wilkes Academy, a Westmead-based performing arts college for 16-19-year-olds, to 110. The majority – 102 – are students, with eight members of staff also testing positive for the virus.

Teaching was suspended at the academy on October 12, with students ordered to self-isolate in halls or private rented accomodation across Swindon.

Steve Maddern, director of public health at Swinndon Borough Council, revealed that some students may have left Swindon since the quarantine was ordered in order to go home to see their parents. It is not known how many of Wilkes’ 260-strong student body have left Swindon.

“Within the guidance there is flexibility to a degree to allow people to travel home where it is safest for them to self isolate. Some of the youngest students may have taken that option,” he said.

But he acknowledged that travelling home to mum and dad after being ordered to self-isolate “absolutely” went against guidance he issued last week – when he said parents shouldn’t be tempted to bring their children back to Swindon if they had been told to self-isolate in university halls affected by the virus.

He said: “My general view of the rule is that if you’re self-isolating you’re not going anywhere and I would still stick by that rule for anyone who’s self-isolating.”

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Wilkes Academy, West Swindon Picture: DAVE COX

Health officials suspect the virus spread among students outside of their college day. The majority of students live together in halls or private rented accommodation, with Mr Maddern comparing the outbreak to those seen in universities across the country. Many of the new cases were teenagers who had developed coronavirus symptoms while in self-isolation.

The council has spoken to the companies providing halls-style housing to make sure social-distancing measures were in place.

And council officials are also looking at the risk assessments in place at Wilkes Academy before teaching had to be suspended last week.

Asked by reporters on Friday if he was content with the social distancing measures that had been in place, Mr Maddern said: “The short answer is probably no, because we can see that there is that potential risk within the academy as well as outside. We have to look at all angles.

“It is that ongoing exposure [to coronavirus], which is probably why we have seen such high numbers.

“That’s why we are working with the academy to make sure we review what their processes are to make sure we don’t see a repeat of that as we go into the winter.

“This is very typical of any higher, further education setting where you’ve got young people who are not necessarily living with their parents and probably have quite minimal outside supervision.”

Earlier this week, bosses at the college said complacency among students could have been behind the outbreak.

Academy principal Nikki Wilkes said: “We are in regular contact with Public Health England officials. The current interventions remain appropriate at this stage. 

“Full support is being offered to the students affected and is available 24/7 via our student support and pastoral team.”