Victorian schools will receive free rapid antigen tests in a bid to cut the time students must isolate if identified as COVID close contacts.
Unvaccinated children deemed primary close contacts of a positive case at school will be allowed to return to the classroom after seven days in isolation, instead of the current 14 days, if they provide a negative PCR (nasal swab) test on day six and return a negative rapid test before school from days eight to 14 after exposure.
Education Minister James Merlino said children currently make up a third of primary close contacts across the state, with those under 12 still ineligible to get a COVID-19 vaccine.
Under current rules, fully-vaccinated children only need to quarantine for seven days.
Several schools in Ballarat in the state's central highlands already use the rapid antigen tests to screen staff and students attending campus who live in metropolitan Melbourne.
On Sunday, Ballarat Specialist School notified families that a positive case had attended the school on Friday, but the school was not required to close, as cleaning and contact identification took place over the weekend.
Damascus students in years seven to 10 returned to school on Monday after another week of remote learning following at least two positive COVID cases at the school.
It comes as rapid antigen tests become more freely available in the community, with UFS starting to sell the kits this week.
If people have symptoms they should still be coming to have a test even if they are double vaccinated. Just because you're double vaxxed doesn't mean you can't get COVID or pass it on, you may have very mild or may not have any symptoms- Danielle Trezise
"They are designed as a screening tool, not a diagnostic tool like the PCR nasal test," said UFS primary care operations manager Danielle Trezise.
The tests will eventually be available at various outlets including pharmacies, supermarkets and other retailers but she warned they all came with different levels of reliability.
"What the government is saying, and what we encourage everyone to do, is if you have symptoms even if you are double vaccinated you should have a traditional diagnostic PCR test at a clinic or drive-through. If you do a rapid antigen test at home and it comes back negative and no symptoms that's great, but if you've got symptoms you should be doing a normal PCR swab.
"If you test at home with a rapid antigen test and it comes back positive, you have to book in and get a PCR. It could be a false positive and we don't want people to isolate and worry needlessly."
Ms Trezise said anyone who tested positive on a home test kit would be fitted in at the testing clinic that day and their test prioritised for results.
"If people have got symptoms, come for a diagnostic nasal PCR which is free, so you don't need to spend money on a kit when you'll have to have a PCR test anyway."
Ms Trezise said COVID testing numbers in Ballarat had fallen in recent weeks, in line with lower testing numbers across the state.
"We are still doing a reasonable number, but we are not full every day as we had been," she said.
Warmer weather had reduced the amount of respiratory illness around but hayfever was prevalent, and with similiar symptoms.
"If people have symptoms they should still be coming to have a test even if they are double vaccinated," she said. "Just because you're double vaxxed doesn't mean you can't get COVID or pass it on, you may have very mild or may not have any symptoms."
On Monday Victoria recorded a further 1126 new locally acquired COVID cases and five deaths. While active cases hover over 16,000, the number of Victorians in hospital battling the virus continues to fall.
There are now 556 COVID-19 patients in hospital, of whom 91 are in intensive care including 54 on ventilators. It has dropped the state's seven-day hospitalisation average by 20 to 628.
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