UPDATED 3:15 pm: ACT students and teachers will be provided with an extra month’s worth of rapid antigen tests after the government decided to extend the school program by an additional four weeks.
The announcement follows 909 cases, or 34 per cent of all COVID-19 cases last week, being related to schools.
All ACT schools had been issued two tests per student and staff member per week for the first four weeks of term.
Minister for Education Yvette Berry acknowledged it was a logistically challenging program, and there had been hiccups along the way.
It’s not yet clear how the next phase of distribution will occur, with Ms Berry saying this all depends on how the government receives supplies.
Use of the tests is voluntary, but a survey found 79 per cent of parents and carers were testing their children with RATs distributed through the school and 71 per cent wanted the program to continue.
“It is voluntary, but we continue to ask parents to do the tests on young people to make sure that we can minimise the spread in our schools,” Ms Berry said.
“The suggestion that’s coming across from parents is [to test the children on] a Sunday night and a Thursday night.”
The ACT Council of Parents & Citizens Associations has welcomed the news of the program extension. President Alison Elliott called the four-week extension “generous”.
“For many parents and carers, rapid antigen tests have been an important tool supporting decisions to send students to school each day,” she said, noting they are being used in a number of ways, such as checking kids are negative before heading off to school and before they mingle with other parts of the community.
“The widespread provision of the tests through schools to students has also been a learning experience for families. The school network is a great way to get important information to families. We’ve become familiar with the tests, the instructions, and comfortable and confident in using them,” she said.
“Students themselves are learning to self-identifying when they need to test. It’s a great way to upskill people in a tool which may continue to be important in this pandemic.”
12:30 pm: New COVID-19 infections in ACT schools soared to 909, or 30 per cent of all cases, in week two of term one, up from 240 cases in week one.
This comes as health authorities advise the COVID-19 situation in the ACT has reached a plateau.
Today, 594 (329 PCR and 265 RAT) new COVID-19 infections have been recorded, taking the total number of cases in the ACT to 2745 (1,213 PCR and 1,262 RAT).
A total of 119 schools, of 90 per cent of schools, in the ACT recorded a case in week two.
The data for week two of term one includes both government and non-government schools, whereas data from week one only covered public schools.
But no schools or early education services are closed this week (as of Tuesday evening).
Meanwhile, stabilising local case numbers have given authorities cause to suggest the Omicron wave has now reached a plateau.
Daily caseloads are now sitting between 450 and 500 after school returned and many Canberrans returned from holidays.
The Omicron wave is believed to have peaked in early to mid-January with a seven day rolling average of over 1100 – the highest rate of community transmission ever recorded in the Territory.
She said the school situation would continue to be monitored. Cabinet is meeting today with one of the items on the agenda to be the roll-out of rapid antigen tests (RATs) through schools.
The RAT pilot program was set up for the first four weeks of term and it’s unclear yet if this arrangement is likely to continue.
There were logistical challenges with the first delivery of rapid antigen tests, although the government later decided the second lot could be handed out directly to students.
An update on the RAT program is expected this afternoon from Minister for Health Rachel Stephen-Smith and Minister for Education Yvette Berry.
Minister for Health Rachel Stephen-Smith told ABC Radio this morning that as daily caseloads have plateaued, the number of people admitted to hospital is also dropping slowly.
Internal hospital modelling also suggests COVID-19 patient numbers in ACT hospitals will gradually decline in the coming weeks.
Visitor restrictions at hospitals have been eased today to allow two visitors per patient per day. Only one visitor is permitted at a time, however.
ACT Health said the decision to ease restrictions follows careful consideration of the current COVID-19 situation in the Territory, but visitors to clinical areas where patients are at higher risk of severe disease will still need to apply directly to the health facility for an exemption.
There are now 48 people in hospital, including three in intensive care and two being ventilated.
The vaccination rate for the ACT’s 12-plus population remains 98.6 per cent, and 62.2 per cent of residents aged 16 and older have received a booster.
Of ACT residents aged 5 to 11, 76.6 per cent have received one dose.
From tomorrow, ACT Health will no longer issue daily ACT COVID-19 media statements. Vaccination rates and COVID-19 case numbers will be made available online instead.
Interstate, NSW has reported 27 deaths overnight and 10,463 new cases (6395 RAT and 4068 PCR).
There are now 1478 people in hospital and 92 people in ICUs around the state.
Victoria has reported 18 deaths overnight and an additional 8149 cases of COVID-19 from 5295 RATs and 2854 PCR tests.
There are now 397 people hospitalised with the virus in the state.
More to come.