NSW and Victoria working on back-to-school plan relying on rapid antigen tests
More than one million students are expected to be asked to take rapid antigen tests at home twice a week before class when schools return after the NSW government hatched a plan to distribute the testing kits.
NSW and Victoria are working on a shared back-to-school plan to be presented to national cabinet this week, according to a report in The Sydney Morning Herald.
NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet has previously said he would prefer a consistent national approach to getting children back into classrooms, which he has vowed to do from the start of term one in 10 days’ time.
Education sources told the newspaper the state had moved towards the adoption of surveillance testing, where students would be given enough rapid test kits (RATs) to test each student twice a week before school.
Those who tested positive would have to stay home, but their classmates could continue attending school without daily testing.
The state has reportedly shifted from earlier plans for the so-called “test-to-stay” approach, which would have seen close contacts of positive cases stay at schools if they returned negative rapid tests for seven days.
NSW education officials say their term one settings for 2022 are still in development with NSW health and will be shared with families and students in late January.
More details are expected to be announced after state and territory leaders meet with Prime Minister Scott Morrison at national cabinet.
While neither Victoria nor NSW has finalised their back-to-school plans, a major logistic operation is underway to distribute rapid antigen test kits to students across NSW.
More than one million RATs should be available for students from the first week of term one, with supplies already shipped to regional NSW from a stockpile in western Sydney, according to The Daily Telegraph.
Mr Perrottet and Education Minister Sarah Mitchell will attempt to get every student in the state’s public, Catholic and private schools access to RATs.
There are about 1.2 million school students in NSW, more than in any other state, meaning 24 million rapid tests would be required to test students twice a week over a 10-week term.
Additional RAT kits have begun arriving into the country but they remain in high demand and short supply, with the nation’s competition watchdog warning of “outrageous” price gouging.
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission on Monday revealed it had received more than 1800 reports of tests being sold for up to $100 each despite wholesale costs ranging between $3.95 and $11.45.
ACTU secretary Sally McManus said providing two rapid tests for schoolchildren each week would be “pretty essential” in keeping people safe.
“It will be the same for the teachers too. If you are taking those tests at home and you know you’re positive, then you can stay at home and you’re not spreading it to everyone else,” she told Today.
Ms McManus is calling for employers to provide staff with free RATs and do more to protect them from contracting Covid, after an emergency meeting of union leaders on Monday.
There remains some concern in the community about low inoculation rates in schoolchildren, particularly those aged 5 to 11 who have only been eligible for the Covid vaccine since January 10.
Originally published as NSW and Victoria working on back-to-school plan relying on rapid antigen tests
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