Students and teachers in Victoria and New South Wales will be required to undergo at least two rapid antigen tests per week, as states finalise their back-to-school plans amid the Omicron wave.
The long-awaited strategies to protect young Australians from coronavirus was announced by the premiers of NSW and Victoria on Sunday, addressing measures to halt the spread of COVID-19 as students return to the classroom.
However, not every state and territory agrees on how to approach the return to school.
Here’s what your state’s plan is as children prepare to head back to school.
In Victoria, Premier Daniel Andrews revealed 6.6 million RATs would be delivered to the state’s schools and early childhood centres before primary and secondary students go back to face-to-face learning on January 31.
A total of 14 million tests will be distributed as part of the state’s surveillance testing regime, which will be reviewed in a month.
“It is about finding as many cases as we can and shutting down those chains of transmission,” Mr Andrews told reporters on Sunday.
Mr Andrews said the testing would be in place for at least the first four weeks of term one in Victorian schools.
“The logic goes like this — we have to get schools back. Once they get back, given how much Omicron is in the community, there will be cases,” he said.
“Free rapid tests means we will find more of those cases than if we were not testing. We will then be able – through isolation – to reduce the chance of transmission.
A third immunisation dose will also become compulsory for Victorian school and early childhood staff by February 25, or within three months and two weeks of when they had their second jab.
Victoria is also pushing ahead with its strategy to improve ventilation, with all 51,000 air purification devices ordered by government and low-fee non-government schools to be delivered for the first day of Term 1.
In addition, more 1800 schools have applied for a grants to install shade sails so as to allow more classes to learn safely outdoors.
NSW’s Premier Dominic Perrottet announced a similar testing plan on Sunday, with two rapid tests to be handed out to pupils and staff for four weeks across 3000 primary, secondary schools, and early education centres before their February 1 return.
Four million RAT kits have already been distributed to NSW school communities, and a further two million will be delivered by next Tuesday when kids return from summer holidays.
In both NSW and Victoria, parents will be contacted by their children’s schools when and how they can pick up the RATs.
Parents of infected students are advised to notify the school and keep their child at home, while students and staff at specialist schools are recommended to take a test every school day to protect medically vulnerable children.
Mr Perrottet said it was important for students to return to face-to-face learning despite the concerning Omicron wave.
“I know many parents are anxious but ultimately we know kids do better in the classroom,” he told reporters on Sunday.
“Some students in our state have already missed a quarter of their schooling. It is what is best for mental health and social outcomes.”
Air purifiers have also been delivered to Victorian and NSW schools to increase ventilation in classrooms and other areas.
Meanwhile, Queensland Health Minister Yvette D’Ath ruled out providing rapid antigen testing to school students twice a week.
Year 11 and 12 students will conduct one week of remote learning, from January 31, before all kids return to campus on February 7.
Ms D’Ath said on Sunday there was no national health advice to do so, that it was “not a comfortable test at the best of times” and that rapid test supplies were limited in Queensland.
“We believe that those tests are best focused in the areas where we need them the most, such as … being able to get hold of them for critical essential workers, aged care, health,” she said.
Tasmanian Premier Peter Gutwein outlined his state’s plan on Thursday to get children back to school safely by February 9.
The Tasmanian government will provide parents with a back-to-school COVID-19 Care Package, containing one of 1.5 million rapid antigen tests and 1.6 million face masks available across the state.
The plan will remain in place for the first five weeks of its 10-week term, with some elements likely to remain for the whole year.
“I can understand parents feeling anxious,” Mr Gutwein said.
“We want to make sure that the plans we have in place, like masks and testing, are copied and mirrored in our schools to make sure our schools have a sufficient level of resources so they can support students if they need it.”
An additional 4500 air purifiers will also be supplied to classrooms and learning areas where required before the start of the school year.
On Friday, SA Premier Steven Marshall announced surveillance rapid antigen testing will be introduced for teachers and other staff in pre-schools and childcare centres.
Last week, widespread reopening of classrooms were delayed.
The start of term one begins on February 2 in SA, but many are required to begin remote learning before all students return to face-to-face learning on February 14.
The SA government also defined classroom contacts, outlining the procedure when a student tests positive for the virus.
Education Minister John Gardner said Friday if one positive case is found in a classroom, the school will remain open.
Instead, teachers would be provided with seven RATs and will be required to show a negative result each morning and be free from symptoms.
Elsewhere, Australia’s capital is yet to formally announce its plan on a safe return to schools but intends for students to return to on-campus learning when term one begins on February 1.
ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr said on Thursday arrangements have not been finalised.
He noted there would be additional protections provided, including RATs and masks.
Mr Barr said a possible scheme involving providing RATs for teachers and students would be announced: “in the coming days”.
Similar to ACT, Western Australia’s COVID-19 bubble has yet to address instructions for teachers and students when classes return on January 31.
Meanwhile, the Northern Territory rolled out its back-to-school plan on Friday.
Chief Minister Michael Gunner stated new measures including face masks and free rapid antigen tests would be provided to protect children.
Classes resume in the NT on January 31.
Teachers at remote schools, Mr Gunner said, would be required to return three negative RATs in the first week of term one.
The NT government is also “strongly encouraging” students in Year 3 and above to wear face masks.
“The territory’s back-to-school COVID-safe plan has three main objectives,” Mr Gunner said.
“To keep our kids safe, to keep our kids in school, and supporting our incredible teachers and support staff.”