RATs for pupils in NSW back-to-school plan

NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet
NSW has released plans for the return of schools, as the state records 20,324 new virus cases. -AAP Image

Students and teachers will be given rapid antigen tests to slow the spread of COVID-19 when they return to NSW classrooms next week.

As part of a long awaited back-to-school plan announced on Sunday, two rapid tests will be handed out to pupils and staff for four weeks across 3000 primary and secondary schools.

Early education and childcare centres will also be included in the scheme.

Schools will not be closed when there is a positive case, with no contact tracing for students and staff. However parents and guardians will be notified when infections are identified within child cohorts.

Premier Dominic Perrottet says it's the right decision for students to return to face-to-face learning amid the Omicron wave.

"I know many parents are anxious but ultimately we know kids do better in the classroom," he told reporters.

"Some students in our state have already missed a quarter of their schooling. It is what is best for mental health and social outcomes."

Education Minister Sarah Mitchell said four million RAT kits had already been distributed to school communities and a further two million will be delivered by Tuesday evening, ahead of students returning to classrooms on February 1.

Schools will contact parents about how and when to pick up the tests.

All students and staff are asked to use a rapid test before their first day back and continue to carry out surveillance tests twice a week for the first four weeks of term one.

If a student tests positive, parents are asked to notify their principal and keep their child at home.

Ms Mitchell said she could offer no better assurance than to say she was very comfortable sending her own daughter back to school and hoped other parents would feel the same.  

At the same time, Chief Health Officer Kerry Chant urged parents not to send kids if they have symptoms.

"Even if they have a negative test on the first day, please keep them home and do a repeat test. Only send them back if there is an alternate diagnosis," she said.

Air purifiers have been sent to schools and principals provided with specific advice on how to maximise natural ventilation.

"We anticipate we will have about 20,000 air purifiers in schools," Ms Mitchell said.

Previous settings such as mandatory masks for high school teachers and students will remain as well as a recommendation for them to be worn by pupils in Year 3 and above. 

Visitors to schools will also be limited and COVID-safe plans enacted for excursions.

With the state's TAFE system also set to resume for 2022, some digital courses are expected to kick off earlier while those involving face-to-face elements may be backended to the second half of the term.

NSW added 20,324 new COVID-19 infections on Sunday along with 34 virus-related deaths. However the number of hospital patients is slightly down, with 2712 in care. Of those, 189 are in ICUs, 15 fewer than for the previous 24 hours.

Some 93.9 per cent of all eligible people aged 16 or over in NSW are now double vaccinated, while almost a third (32.8 per cent) have also had a booster shot.

More than a quarter (26.5 per cent) of kids aged five to 11 have also had their first jab.