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Antigen tests to be introduced for public school pupils

Public school pupils will be able to use antigen tests (File photograph)

Public school pupils will be able to return to the classroom after taking a coronavirus antigen test at home instead of a PCR test.

Tinée Furbert, the Acting Minister of Education, said the change will be phased in from next week.

Antigen tests have also been ruled adequate for pupils returning to school after the midterm break.

Ms Furbert said: “Previously, it was mandatory that all staff and students in public schools produce a negative PCR test results before entering school buildings after a school midterm break.

“This requirement was introduced to protect the health and safety of students and staff, and as a necessary measure to prevent and reduce bringing Covid-19 into school buildings upon reopening.

“The policy will now be that all staff and students must produce a certified negative antigen test result before entering school buildings after a school break. This will ensure that results are received in sufficient time to support in-person learning.”

Ms Furbert added that the decision was made after consultation with the Department of Health, school staff and parents.

She said antigen tests will be supplied to parents free of charge “due to a generous donation”.

Ms Furbert added: “While there are pros and cons that at-home antigen testing is faster, more efficient and can be done in the privacy of one’s home, it also provides immediate results and eliminates disruptions to teaching and learning schedules in schools.

“Staff and students of selected pilot schools will start testing this Sunday evening, with all other schools starting later next week.

“Parents of pilot schools have received information on the testing programme and information will shared early next week with the staff and parents of all other schools.

Ms Furbert said that the weekly school saliva screening testing programme, which had been put on hold, would be reintroduced.

She added: “The ministry is cognisant of the rise in the number of positive Covid cases and the importance of keeping our schools safe for students and school staff.

“Therefore in addition to the antigen testing pilot that will commence this weekend, the remainder of our schools will be provided with at-home antigen tests commencing next week Monday so that all students participate in weekly antigen testing commencing on Wednesday.”

Ms Furbert admitted that the Government was criticised after it insisted that schools would be open for the new term last Tuesday — but was forced into an eleventh-hour change of plan.

She said: “But my hope, as we move forward, is that we can all pull together to win together. Because notwithstanding the challenges, failure is really not an option.

“Moving forward should also mean acknowledging the past and the present. An unprecedented level of demand for PCR Covid-19 tests and subsequent delays in processing results put us all in a difficult position.

“We were forced to stagger the reopening of schools. This was not ideal for many of our parents and guardians and it certainly was not the best outcome for some of our students.

“Staff members were, of course, also inconvenienced, and many had to retest when the three-day window expired.

“I can assure you that our ability to plan and adapt under these circumstances will be reviewed. I can also assure you that staff at the department and ministry have performed yeoman service — responding to multiple and sometimes conflicting demands at a moment’s notice.

“Tough decisions have had to be made and will continue to be made as we move into the future. Some will disagree with these decisions. What won’t change is our overriding priority — ensuring safe in-school learning for our students.

“We may not have always agreed, but we have all had the best interest of our children at the forefront of every decision. I look forward again, to continuing these collaborative efforts.”

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Published January 14, 2022 at 7:55 am (Updated January 14, 2022 at 10:16 am)

Antigen tests to be introduced for public school pupils

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