By Q Radio News
Weekly coronavirus testing will be rolled out in special schools across Northern Ireland from the beginning of next week.
All staff and pupils will be offered regular saliva based tests, which avoids having to swab vulnerable children, even if they don’t have symptoms.
The initiative is being led by the Public Health Agency working together with a range of delivery partners, including the Education Authority and Queens University Belfast.
The programme, which uses new technology called LAMP (loop-mediated isothermal amplification), is jointly sponsored by the Departments of Health and Education and is subject to business case approval.
Both Robin Swann and Peter Weir have welcomed the move which they say will identify positive cases and close contacts early, preventing further transmission of the virus.
The Health Minister 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.”
Education Minister Peter Weir added: “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.”