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John Swinney announces on-demand Covid-19 testing for teachers and nursery staff

Education Secretary John Swinney.

Teachers and nursery staff will get on-demand testing for Covid-19 if they have been at risk of infection, even if they have no symptoms, the Education Secretary has confirmed.

John Swinney made the announcement in a statement to the Scottish Parliament on Tuesday, following the return of many schools across the country for the first time since March.

He confirmed that teachers, nursery and school staff who are concerned they may have been exposed to the virus can now be tested for Covid-19 on demand, whether they have symptoms or not.

The Education Secretary, who paid a visit to Monifieth High School in Angus on Wednesday to see the procedures they have in place, said: “This step has been taken to provide additional reassurance to teachers and other staff as children and young people return to the classroom and to nursery.

“It is vital these measures provide credible reassurance to all who have expressed anxiety about the reopening of schools.”

In addition, a programme of enhanced surveillance that will include a full application of Test and Protect, outbreak management and rapid testing for all those with symptoms in school.

There will be close “ongoing monitoring” of the virus in schools and among school-age children and staff from the start of term.

Serology testing will also be carried out from next month among staff, looking for antibodies to Covid-19.

Banffshire and Buchan Coast MSP Stewart Stevenson.

Banffshire and Buchan Coast MSP Stewart Stevenson described the move to offer on-demand testing to teachers and school staff as a “welcome move”.

“The job they do is essential and incredibly valuable – educating and caring for children – and I support any move to help them feel safer in doing so following the coronavirus outbreak,” he added.

Meanwhile, Ross Greer, Scottish Greens education spokesman, called for school testing to be “regularly offered” to school staff, particularly in areas like Aberdeen experiencing an outbreak in cases.

It comes after the Education Secretary confirmed teachers would have to make the request to be tested themselves.

Ross Greer.

Mr Greer said: “The countries which have successfully eliminated Covid-19 credit much of this to their intense use of regular testing, and it underpins the Scottish Government’s rules for the return of premier league football.

“School staff surely deserve the same reassurance as footballers.”

Asked by Scottish Labour MSP Daniel Johnson on what basis schools would have to close after an outbreak, Mr Swinney said: “If a school has two positive cases within a 14-day period, it will be defined as having an outbreak.

“In those circumstances – and indeed in the circumstance of any positive case within a school – the school should contact the local health protection team.

“It then becomes a discussion, which may vary depending on the circumstances and the composition of the outbreak, as to what action is taken.”

In his statement, Mr Swinney said he was aware that a number of schools, including in Aberdeen city and Aberdeenshire, Highland and Perth and Kinross, were unable to reopen on Tuesday after flooding caused damage and closed roads.

The Education Secretary confirmed he would take part in a resilience call on Tuesday afternoon to discuss the issue.

Chief medical officer Dr Gregor Smith.

It comes as the Chief Medical Officer for Scotland, Dr Gregor Smith, issued the latest science in respect of Covid-19 and schools.

Mr Swinney said this shows there have been no Covid-19-related deaths for people aged under the age of 15 and 1% of Covid-19 deaths have been in those aged under 45.

On August 3 fewer than 1% of the cases of Covid-19 involved children under 15 and around 2% involved children and young people aged under 20.

There have also been no cases linked to the community hubs open throughout the pandemic and children affected by Covid-19 are less likely to spread the virus to each other or to adults, according to the latest evidence.

Mr Swinney’s statement also laid out the details of the £135 million of support previously announced for schools, including £80m to bring additional teachers and staff into Scotland’s classrooms for the new school years.

The funding is sufficient for local authorites to recruit around 1,400 extra teachers, the Scottish Government has claimed.

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