The Public Health Agency and Education Authority are urging school students and teachers to get Covid-19 tests, even if they are asymptomatic.
However, authorities have warned that the testing programme will likely cause a rise in cases being detected.
The rapid tests are available to all staff in pre-school, primary and post-primary schools, alongside all pupils in years 12-14.
Highlighting the importance of testing, Dr Joanne McClean from the PHA said around one third of people with Covid-19 do not have any symptoms of the virus.
“Asymptomatic testing is an extremely important and effective way of helping ensure that those who may have the virus but do not know can take the appropriate actions to reduce the spread of coronavirus and keep others safe. “It has the potential to be a very effective additional tool to help us reduce the spread of COVID-19 in schools and beyond. For it to work, we need as many people as possible to participate. “Almost 90,000 school staff and students will be invited to carry out a test twice a week. It is expected therefore that as we carry out more tests we will find a greater the number of cases. However, this shouldn’t be seen as a cause for concern, and in fact would reflect that the infection is being detected when it otherwise wouldn’t have been, which is a good thing. Lateral flow tests can be carried out at home and involves the person taking a swab of theiri tonsil area, followed by their nostrils. "A negative result does not mean that we should let our guard down and we should not change our behaviours – we still need to carry out all the appropriate public health measures," Dr McClean added. “Individuals with a positive LFD result need to self-isolate along with their household, and book a PCR test as soon as possible at one of the COVID-19 test sites to confirm their result.”
Kim Scott, Assistant Director of Education at the Education Authority, said: “Young people have been greatly impacted throughout the pandemic and have experienced significant disruption to their learning.
"Asymptomatic testing alongside the other measures within schools will help us all to make sure that we’re not just protecting each other from the virus, but also helping to maximise the learning opportunities for everyone at this particularly important time.” “Older students in years 12-14 are participating in the testing as prevalence of COVID-19 tends to be higher among this group, so we would encourage as many pupils eligible to participate and keep themselves, their friends and the entire school community safe.
The LFD testing in schools is an additional measure alongside the range of existing safety measures in place to help ensure the safety of staff and pupils in schools.
“The roll out of this testing programme will provide reassurance for pupils and teachers and parents at this crucial time in the educational journey of these students.” “If a student tests positive or is a close contact and is required to self-isolate, it is important that they do so for 10 days. During this time their school will ensure learning continues remotely.”