Free rapid antigen tests will be distributed to Victorian schools to get students identified as COVID-19 close contacts back in class twice as fast.
The Victorian government on Monday announced the rapid tests will be trialled by up to 20 outbreak-stricken schools, before being rolled out to all schools across the state from November 15.
The approved at-home tests, part of a stockpile of 200,000 secured by the state government, will be offered to unvaccinated students deemed primary close contacts of a positive case at school.
It will allow students to return to face-to-face learning after seven days in isolation, rather than the current requirement of 14.
But they will still need to provide a negative PCR test on day six and return a negative rapid test before school from days eight to 14 after exposure.
Parents will then phone the school before 8.30 am each day to confirm their child’s rapid test result.
The program will operate on an opt-in basis and exclude fully-vaccinated children, given they only need to quarantine for seven days under existing rules.
Education Minister James Merlino said children currently make up one-in-three primary close contacts across the state, with those under 12 still ineligible to get a COVID-19 vaccine.
The extra time in isolation for unvaccinated children stemming from school outbreaks has been a source of frustration among students and parents, Mr Merlino said.
“We’re now in a position to cut that time in half,” he told reporters after students at Jells Park Primary School in Wheelers Hill participated in a rapid test demonstration.
“It’s just another mitigation measure to make our schools safer but at the same time minimise disruption to our kids and our school communities.”
Masks remain compulsory in Victorian schools for students in grade three and above when indoors, as part of measures to combat transmission.
Mr Merlino said about 5700 air purifiers will have been distributed to more than 300 schools across the state by week’s end.
Another 8000 will be sent to more than 600 schools by the end of next week.
It comes after Victoria recorded a further 1126 new locally acquired cases and five deaths of people aged in their 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s, bringing the state’s toll across the pandemic to 1182.
While active cases hover over 16,000, the number of Victorians in hospitals battling the virus continues to fall.
There are now 556 COVID-19 patients in hospital, of whom 91 are in intensive care including 54 on ventilators.
It has dropped the state’s seven-day hospitalisation average by 20 to 628.
Some 84.1 per cent of Victorians over 12 are fully vaccinated, with data analysts predicting the state could hit its 90 per cent target as early as November 23.