More than 7,000 requests for free antigen tests on first day of scheme

Use of tests in primary schools should have been embraced earlier, say Opposition politicians

Teachers’ unions and principals’ groups have said it is too early to tell how the system of providing free antigen tests is working. Photograph: Alan Betson

Teachers’ unions and principals’ groups have said it is too early to tell how the system of providing free antigen tests is working. Photograph: Alan Betson

 

More than 7,000 requests for free antigen tests for school children had been made to the Health Service Executive, during the first day of a new testing scheme for primary schools.

The HSE said by 4pm on Monday it had received just over 7,000 requests from parents for free antigen tests for their children, either via a freephone line or online.

A spokeswoman for the HSE said the tests should arrive in the post in one or two business days.

Meanwhile, it was confirmed on Monday that children with additional needs will be exempt from any requirement to wear a mask in the classroom if, as expected, the Government implements a recommendation that children over nine use face coverings at school.

Minister of State for Special Education Josepha Madigan said primary school children with additional needs would not have to wear masks if it makes them uncomfortable.

Parents will be able to request an exemption from schools, she added.

Opposition politicians had criticised the delay in implementing the antigen testing policy, which allows parents to order free tests for their children if they are notified of a positive Covid-19 case within their child’s “pod” in primary school from Monday.

Teachers’ unions and principals’ groups have said it is too early to tell how the scheme is working.

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The Department of Education and Health Service Executive (HSE) have set up a phone line to provide the tests to children, where another child in their class pod tests positive using a PCR test.

Where two or more confirmed cases of Covid-19 occur in a class in a seven-day period, outside of a single pod, antigen testing will be offered to the entire class.

Freephone number

From Monday parents or guardians have been asked to contact their child’s school principal immediately if their child tests positive for the virus.

The principal will then contact the parents of other children in the child’s pod, and provide details of how to order free antigen tests via a freephone number. The principal has been requested not to share any personal information relating to any child.

If a child’s antigen test comes back positive, they are required to isolate at home, with their parents to contact the HSE to request a PCR test to confirm the result.

The Irish Primary Principals’ Network said it would not have a sense of how the free antigen test system was working in practice “until the latter part of the week”. Similarly, the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation (INTO), who represent primary school teachers, said it was too early to comment on the new antigen test system.

‘A day late’

Aodhán Ó Ríordáin TD, Labour Party education spokesman, criticised the slow rollout of free antigen testing, which he said should have been “embraced a lot earlier”.

Mr Ó Ríordáin was also critical that the antigen test scheme was limited to primary schools.

Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire TD, Sinn Féin spokesman on education, described free antigen tests for schools as “a day late and a dollar short”.

He said he would prefer to see a return to the full contact-tracing regime in schools, rather than placing the burden of organising testing and informing close contacts on principals, who he said would be left “overwhelmed”.

Separately, Mr Ó Laoghaire announced on Monday he had tested positive for Covid-19 and said he was working from home while self-isolating.

The Cork South Central TD said: “ My symptoms so far are mild and manageable thankfully.”

Ceann Comhairle Seán Ó Fearghaíl is expected to return to his duties in Leinster House this week after recovering from Covid-19.

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