Regular rapid tests earmarked for students

·2-min read

Classrooms could remain open safely even if students test positive for COVID-19 under new modelling presented to the federal government.

The Doherty Institute has delivered updated modelling to national cabinet showing regular rapid antigen tests can be used to help keep students at school even during outbreaks.

Under a "test to stay" approach, students would be given rapid antigen tests if a classmate tests positive and allowed to return to school as long as they return a negative result.

The modelling found this approach resulted in just one more infection in primary schools and six fewer cases in high schools compared with having an entire class quarantine for 14 days.

"Daily rapid antigen testing of contacts, with exclusion only if positive, is as effective for outbreak prevention as 14-day contact quarantine," the modelling presented to state and federal leaders on Friday said.

"(It) dramatically reduces days of missed face-to-face learning."

Even without screening or contact tracing measures, modelling showed nearly half of outbreaks would die out in schools as long as vaccine rates were above 80 per cent.

Halving the time vaccinated close contacts need to isolate from two weeks only increased the risk of transmission by one per cent.

Head of modelling at the Burnet Institute Dr Nick Scott, who worked on the final report, said the risk would be even lower for primary schools if children aged between five and 11 could be vaccinated.

"If primary school students are vaccinated as well, we would see a similar thing for the vaccinations of secondary school students," he said.

Doing rapid tests for all students twice a week would "markedly increase" the chance of stopping future outbreaks.

But screening teachers twice a week regardless of symptoms wasn't expected to make much difference.

The updated modelling also showed infections from international arrivals were management with a national double-dose rate of 80 per cent and above.

Australia reached that milestone on the weekend, following the resumption of international travel from NSW and Victoria.

More than 7000 people have arrived in Australia in the past week.

Breakthrough cases among the fully vaccinated are set to become increasingly common in coming months.

"As vaccine coverage increases, the proportion of all infections that occur in vaccinate people will increase because they will represent a majority proportion of the population," the report said.

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