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Weekly Covid-19 testing for pupils and staff at NI special schools to begin in February


Weekly Covid-19 testing is to be introduced at special schools in Northern Ireland. (Liam McBurney/PA)

Weekly Covid-19 testing is to be introduced at special schools in Northern Ireland. (Liam McBurney/PA)

Weekly Covid-19 testing is to be introduced at special schools in Northern Ireland. (Liam McBurney/PA)

Weekly Covid-19 testing for pupils and staff at Northern Ireland's special schools is to be introduced from the start of February.

Special schools have remained open during the latest lockdown to care for pupils with complex needs.

It is hoped the new testing programme will identify cases of Covid-19 early among those without symptoms, reducing the risk of spreading the virus throughout the school.

The testing will be delivered by the Queen's University Belfast laboratory using a new testing technology called LAMP (loop-mediated isothermal amplification).

Coronavirus Data Graphs

LAMP is a saliva-based test and is expected to be easier than swab testing for children attending special schools.

Test results will be available on the same day as the samples are obtained and school principals will work with the Public Health Agency’s (PHA) Schools Team to take any required public health action on receipt of a positive result.

The programme is jointly sponsored by the Departments of Health and Education and is subject to business case approval.

Health Minister Robin Swann said LAMP testing was a "significant development in our fight against Covid-19".

"The introduction of this new testing intervention for staff and pupils in special schools will allow positive cases to be identified early so that they and their contacts can isolate, helping to prevent further transmission of Covid-19 within these school settings," Mr Swann said.

“New Testing Interventions (NTIs) are progressing in a range of educational settings in Northern Ireland, including schools and universities, with the PHA playing an important role in their planning and operational delivery. Testing is one element in our road map out of this pandemic and I hope everyone avails of the opportunity to be tested, to keep themselves and those they care for safe.”

Education Minister Peter Weir acknowledged there had been calls for additional measures to support staff and students in special schools.

“The nature of special schools means that social distancing is difficult and it is important that staff are given every support possible to help them continue their vital and valuable work," the DUP MLA said.

"Access to this testing programme will help provide additional reassurance to teaching staff, pupils and parents. I would encourage all staff and pupils to take the tests.”

Last week Stormont's Education Committee heard how staff in special schools were "living in fear" of catching the virus.

It emerged that that Public Health Agency guidance allows for a child whose parent has tested positive for Covid to attend school after 10 days of no symptoms, even if another family member tests positive.

Teaching unions had repeatedly called for all teachers and education staff to be prioritised for the Covid-19 vaccine.

A number of special schools in Northern Ireland have moved to two-day weeks due to staffing pressures as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

Belfast Telegraph