The Scottish government has said that it will begin trialling asymptomatic coronavirus testing of school staff at the beginning of the new term in January.
Health secretary Jeane Freeman – who was announcing the new testing regimes planned for the NHS and care homes in the Scottish Parliament this afternoon – also said that, as of January, “pathfinder testing programmes” would begin running in schools “with the objective of establishing a sustainable programme of asymptomatic testing among school staff”.
She said: “All school staff can currently access testing if they are concerned they have been at risk from infection, and we have enhanced surveillance in schools undertaken by Public Health Scotland.
“But I know that as transmission has risen, or stayed stubbornly high in some of our communities, especially those now in level 4, school staff may have had concerns about risk. We will maintain the current access to asymptomatic testing but last week the deputy first minister also gave a clear commitment to explore extending testing further.”
Coronavirus: 'You have the lives of school staff in your hands'
Ms Freeman added: “I am pleased to confirm that from the return of the school term in January, we will undertake a number of pathfinder testing programmes on deliverability in the school environment with the objective of establishing a sustainable programme of asymptomatic testing among school staff.”
Coronavirus: Expansion of testing for schools
Last week MSPs backed a Green Party motion calling for an additional 2,000 teachers amid fears around school safety – the motion also called for the government to make regular voluntary Covid-19 testing widely available for asymptomatic staff and senior pupils.
Ms Freeman said that the “significant” expansion of testing was due to the increased capacity provided by new laboratories and “new testing options”.
New lateral flow devices allowed the testing of “more people, more often”, she said, with results available in under half an hour, and no lab required.
However, Green MSP Alison Johnstone questioned if school staff may yet be left waiting for months for a regular testing programme to be rolled out, given the length of time it had taken to make regular testing available to other frontline staff.
Ms Johnstone said the Greens had been calling for weekly testing for frontline NHS staff since April and described the government commitment to trials in January for schools as “tentative”.
Ms Freeman said the commitment was not “tentative” – it was a commitment – and added that the trials were to ensure the smooth deliverability of regular testing in the school environment.