NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet has announced the state's long-awaited return to school plan as Australia continues to battle the Omicron wave.
He said students will be given two rapid antigen tests per week while masks will be mandatory for high school students and teachers.
"We need to make sure that we have kids back in the classroom in a safe way," he said.
"I think the work that has occurred right here in our state with the Department of Education, it has been a significant effort, not just the acquisition of these rapid antigen test, but also the distribution of those tests as we move through."
Schools expected to mirror spread in community
Chief Health Officer Dr Kerry Chant says she shares Mr Perrottet's views about the importance of schooling for children's health, well-being and development.
"I share the premier's support for children engaging in face-to-face learning," she told reporters on Sunday/
"While the community cases are high, we expect to see that schools mirror what is occurring in the community. We will expect to see cases among children and staff attending schools. The testing regime that the premier has spoken about will allow us to pick up those cases a little earlier through that rapid antigen testing."
Dr Chant called for parents to be vigilant with testing their children if they are unwell.
"We are calling upon all parents to ensure that any children with symptoms are not sent to school. Please do not send your child to still if they have symptoms.
"Instead, get them tested, and even if they have a negative test on the first day, please keep them home and do a repeat test, and only send them back if there is an alternate diagnosis."
Masks will be mandatory for high school students in indoor settings and for staff in schools and childcare centres.
They will be highly recommended for students in Year 3 and above.
'Covid smart' start to 2022
Schools will no longer be closed if a positive case is identified in the school community and schools will not be conducting contact tracing anymore.
Minister for Education and Early Childhood Learning Sarah Mitchell said four million rapid antigen tests have been distributed to schools already with a further six million to be sent out on Tuesday.
"For parents, your school will be in contact with you as to how you can pick up those kits before school returns," Ms Mitchell said.
"We are asking all of our students and staff to test before they come back to school for that first day, and then of course to do those twice-weekly surveillance tests for the first four weeks of term."
Ms Mitchell said there were "several layers" of contingency and place ready to go to support schools if they should be impacted by Covid.
"It depends on how many staff are impacted, what is the need for that school community, we have got our existing casual pools, we also have many teachers who are working but maybe in a non- teaching role, so you might have a deputy or an assistant principal who is not on a class but can be allocated to a class for a period of time to fill any gaps," she explained.
Teachers, education and early childhood will be added to the exemption to the public order, which allows close contacts to leave self-isolation to attend work, only if they have no Covid-19 symptoms.
NSW reported 20,324 new Covid-19 infections on Sunday, along with 34 more virus-related deaths.
Victoria announce the return to school plan
Premier Daniel Andrews announced a similar turn to school plan for Victoria, with two rapid antigen tests per week for students and staff.
Masks and air purifiers in schools across the state in the lead up to classes returning on January 31, as well as a third Covid vaccine dose will be mandated for school staff amid the Omicron wave.
The schools testing regime will run for four weeks before it is reviewed. A similar plan has been announced for NSW schools after collaboration between the two states.
Mr Andrews says the move is important to protect children aged five to 11, who only became eligible for the Covid-19 vaccine a fortnight ago.
"We know this Omicron variant spreads so fast and we know that based on common sense and logic, if we can get as many people third dose protected as possible, that has a positive impact," he said.
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