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Weekly Covid-19 testing for special schools to commence February

A programme of weekly testing of pupils and staff is to be introduced in special schools in Northern Ireland at the start of February.

The initiative is being led by the Public Health Agency working together with range of delivery partners, including the Education Authority and Queens University Belfast. The programme is jointly sponsored by the Departments of Health and Education and is subject to business case approval.

All asymptomatic staff and pupils attending special schools in Northern Ireland will be offered regular testing using a new testing technology called LAMP (loop-mediated isothermal amplification).

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

Health Minister Robin Swann said:

“LAMP testing is 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.

“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.”

Welcoming the announcement, Education Minister Peter Weir said:

“Special schools have remained opened during the current period of restrictions. As a result, there have been calls for additional measures to support staff and students.

“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. 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.”

The key aim this initiative is to provide weekly asymptomatic testing for all staff and students in special schools in order to find asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic cases, so they can be isolated along with their contacts, therefore finding cases early (case finding) and reducing the risk of transmission in the school setting.

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 Schools Team to take any required public health action on receipt of a positive result

The testing will be delivered by the Queens University Belfast laboratory using its Direct LAMP test platform

LAMP technology, which uses saliva samples, has been chosen as children in special school may find is difficult to tolerate regular nose and throat swabs.

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