Children will quickly adjust to having a swab put up their nose twice weekly if parents calmly explain the situation to them, the New South Wales health minister says.
Students will be required to return a negative rapid antigen test every few days to attend school, which returns on February 1.
In addition to 3000 public schools, the state’s 5000 early childhood centres are also receiving free RATs to detect any new virus cases which are expected to spike when school resumes.
Health Minister Brad Hazzard advised parents to talk to their children about how doing a RAT was very simple with no negative consequences.
“As long as there is a calm message to the children about the importance of staying safe and enjoying school, I’m absolutely certain children will learn very quickly to accommodate to having the rapid antigen tests,” he told reporters on Monday.
Newly recorded COVID-19 infections in NSW fell to their lowest mark this year, with 15,091 cases reported on Monday.
Chief Health Officer Kerry Chant said the spread of the virus appeared to be slowing and “our situation is stabilising”.
While a surge in cases was expected once schools returned and mobility increased, being fully vaccinated and wearing a mask in public could mitigate further spread of the virus.
“My clear view is boosters are essential,” Dr Chant said.
Two in three NSW adults are yet to have a third dose, while 53 per cent of children aged five to 15 are unvaccinated.
It was still important children and adults stayed home if they had symptoms, Dr Chant said.
Unlike in the Delta wave, schools won’t close in the event of positive cases.
Instead, parents will be notified if there’s a positive case in their child’s year, and any child who tests positive will be required to isolate at home.
Returning to school, if well, was a necessity for a “very large group” of students starting to fall behind due to difficulties in learning from home, UNICEF Australia Chair Ann Sherry said.
“That group of kids is really craving getting back into an environment where they can both learn but also catch up,” she said.
About 20,000 air purifiers will be issued to schools and principals will be advised on how to maximise natural ventilation.
Masks remain mandatory for high school teachers and students and are recommended for pupils in Year 3 and above.
Staff absences will be covered by a pool of 1000 student and retired teachers, as well as hundreds of trained departmental officers and school administrators.
The NSW Teachers Federation says it will closely monitor the effectiveness of the measures, while the opposition criticised the short time between the plan’s announcement and the start of term one.
Premier Dominic Perrottet took a swing at other governments’ preparedness, noting Victoria and NSW had the capacity to implement a regime centred on rapid antigen testing.
“It’s because we went out and purchased them,” he said.
“We believe the use of rapid antigen tests for a four-week period should ensure we can open up our schools in a safe way, but also what is a crucial element here, is instilling confidence in our teachers and parents that schools are a safe environment.”
He declined to shed further light on a potential RAT subsidy for the general public, saying the customer service minister was still investigating whether a voucher scheme could work.
Two men aged in their 50s and 19 people over the age of 80 were among 24 deaths reported on Monday by NSW Health.
Since the pandemic began, 1112 people have died with COVID-19 in NSW, including 227 in the past week.
COVID-19 hospitalisations rose four per cent on the previous day’s figures, hitting 2816.
That’s 47 short of Wednesday’s peak.
There are 196 patients in intensive care, with 69 on ventilators.
One in 35 NSW residents are considered an active COVID case, down from one-in-24 a week ago.