SYDNEY, AAP – NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet says rapid antigen tests will play a role in the government’s strategy to get kids back to school for term one as the state’s COVID-19 situation worsens.
“We see a role of rapid antigen tests … as we open up schools … and that’s why we procured here in NSW tens of millions of them,” Mr Perrottet told reporters in Sydney on Tuesday.
The premier said he would not provide a “running commentary” on how the kits would be used, but confirmed they would be available for “frontline service delivery” including students and teachers.
More details would be provided after NSW met with other states and territories at national cabinet on Thursday, he said.
The premier’s comments come as NSW on Tuesday reported its deadliest day of the pandemic so far with 36 fatalities, less than a fortnight before the start of school on January 28.
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As the situation worsens, only about 14 per cent of children aged five to 11 have received a COVID-19 vaccine dose, stoking concerns about school safety as term one looms.
Under the plan reportedly being considered by the government, students would be asked to take RATs at home twice a week to help manage the spread of the virus.
With about 1.2 million school students in NSW, it would mean using about 24 million of the hard-to-find kits over a 10-week term, the Sydney Morning Herald reports.
The plan would require RATs delivered to every public, Catholic and private school student in time for the first day of school, News Corp reports.
NSW Labor urged the government to use schools as mass vaccination hubs where RATs could be handed out free.
It also wants a plan to ensure that schools remain operational when teachers get sick, and that advice is available to families in multiple languages.
“Every day the government delays implementing a plan makes it harder for parents to know what a safe return to school looks like,” Labor leader Chris Minns said.
Meanwhile, independent schools have reportedly been told to ask parents to supervise students amid fears up to 20 per cent of staff could be absent at any one time as COVID-19 threatens to run out of control in the state.
Likely staff shortages are also said to be behind the government considering recalling retired teachers, and fast-tracking university students into school roles.
Mr Perrottet said whatever plan was rolled out in NSW schools to manage COVID-19, safety would be paramount.
“It’s incredibly important for our children’s educational outcomes, their mental health, and their social understanding that we are able to get kids back as quickly as possible,” he told reporters.
“That’s why we’re committed here in NSW to doing that on day one, term one.”
The Independent Education Union, which represents more than 3200 teachers in non-government schools, urged the premier to abandon “far-fetched ideas” for filling future staff shortages.
“The government should be focusing on a safe return-to-school plan that facilitates proper ventilation and easy access to free rapid-antigen tests and booster vaccinations,” the union’s NSW/ACT branch acting secretary Michael Wright said in a statement on Tuesday.
“Fast-tracking accreditation is also fraught. Support staff undertake work that is essential for schools to function – rushing them into classrooms will only create different shortages.”