RATs for pupils in NSW back-to-school plan

Callum Godde |

School students and teachers in NSW will be given rapid antigen tests to slow the spread of COVID-19 when they return to classrooms next week.

The NSW government announced its long-awaited back-to-school plan on Sunday before term one begins.

As part of the plan, two rapid tests will be handed out to students and teachers each week across 3000 primary and secondary schools in NSW.

Schools will not be closed when there is a positive case, with no contact tracing for students and staff.

Previous settings such mandatory masks for teachers and students in secondary schools will remain, as well as a recommendation for them to be worn by pupils in Year 3 and above. Visits to schools will be limited and COVID-safe plans enacted for excursions.

“We want to ensure in NSW that closing schools is the last resort,” Premier Dominic Perrottet told reporters.

Education Minister Sarah Mitchell said four million RAT kits had already been distributed to school communities and a further two million will be delivered by Tuesday evening, ahead of students returning to classrooms on February 1.

Schools will contact parents about how and when to pick up the tests.

All students and staff are asked to use a rapid test before their first day back at school and continue to carry out surveillance tests twice a week for the first four weeks of term one.

“If you are testing negative, that is great. Come to school. If you happen to get a positive test, you need to let your principal know that you have tested positive to COVID,” Ms Mitchell said.

Chief Health Officer Kerry Chant urged parents not to send their children to school if they have symptoms.

“Instead, get them tested, and even if they have a negative test on the first day, please keep them home and do a repeat test. Only send them back if there is an alternate diagnosis,” Dr Chant said.

NSW added 20,324 new infections to its COVID-19 caseload on Saturday, along with 34 more virus-related deaths.

But the number of coronavirus patients in the state’s hospitals is slightly down, with 2712 in care. Of those, 189 are in ICUs, 15 fewer than for the previous 24 hours. 

NSW Health’s “best-case scenario” predictions based on outbreaks in London and South Africa initially suggested a peak of 3158 people in hospital and 270 in ICU.

Authorities say just under 7000 of the latest cases were detected using rapid antigen tests and 13,620 of them were recorded in labs.

Some 93.9 per cent of all eligible people aged 16 or over in NSW are now double vaccinated, while almost a third (32.8 per cent) have also had a booster shot.

More than a quarter (26.5 per cent) of kids aged five to 11 have also had their first jab.