SINGAPORE - Teachers and school staff who have not been vaccinated against Covid-19 will undergo twice-weekly antigen rapid tests (ARTs) from Oct 1, as part of the new vaccinate or regular test regime.
This will also apply to non-government employees who have regular contact with students aged 12 and below, including those working in tuition and enrichment centres, Education Minister Chan Chun Sing said in a Facebook post on Friday (Aug 13).
At the same time, cleaners in tuition and enrichment centres that cater to students aged 12 and below will also be required to undergo regular testing under the fast and easy testing (FET) regime from Sept 3.
Staff in schools working in higher-risk settings, such as cleaners, canteen operators and physical education (PE) teachers who conduct mask-off activities as part of PE lessons, are required to undergo testing using ART kits every two weeks as part of the FET regime, even if they are vaccinated against Covid-19.
School bus drivers and attendants, as well as parent volunteers who interact regularly with students aged 12 and below are also included in the vaccinate or regular test regime.
These are among measures taken by the Ministry of Education (MOE) to adopt what it described as a more sustainable approach towards school cases, as Singapore moves towards living with an endemic Covid-19.
Mr Chan said his ministry has been more targeted in dealing with Covid-19 infections since early August.
This means placing close contacts and students from the same class or co-curricular activity on leave of absence (LOA) or quarantine, instead of placing the entire level on home-based learning.
"The disruptions are further minimised this way," he added.
MOE's announcement comes after the Ministry of Health earlier this month said it would introduce the vaccinate or regular test regime in several work settings from Oct 1, including premises with children aged 12 and below.
The twice-weekly testing regime applies to those who are not yet fully vaccinated, are unvaccinated, or are medically ineligible for vaccination against Covid-19.
In his post, Mr Chan noted that 216 students out of Singapore's 600,000 student population were infected by the Covid-19 virus from May to July. About half of these - 103 - were primary school pupils.
More than half of the cases were isolated through leave of absence or quarantine order before they tested positive, which meant that no contact tracing was required in schools as they did not pose any risk to their schoolmates, the minister said.
Over those three months, more than 20,000 students across 50 schools were placed on home-based learning (HBL) at different times and for varying time periods.
None of these students was Covid-19 positive, as all close contacts of confirmed cases had already been placed under leave of absence or quarantine, Mr Chan noted.
The minister also said MOE wants to expand its options for less-invasive testing methods, to enable children and families to experience even less disruption when Covid-19 infections are uncovered.
"Testing would allow us to be much more targeted in terms of who should stay away from school and for how long," he said.
For example, with more regular and faster testing using self-administered ARTs, students and staff who test negative can return to school earlier.
MOE also noted in a statement on Friday that placing more classes or levels on home-based learning remains an option, should there be a risk of transmission beyond close contacts.
Schools will continue to monitor the health of students and staff more closely as an additional precaution, it said.
"As new scientific evidence emerges and we accumulate more experience, we will further calibrate the suite of measures and apply them based on the circumstances to keep our schools and children safe," said Mr Chan.
"Where necessary, we will tighten measures, balancing the considerations for risk management with the impact of the disruptions."
Infectious diseases specialist Leong Hoe Nam said that regular testing is the correct strategy, although "a person can test negative one day and positive the next".
"To follow this principle, the ART should be done daily."
Mr Yeoh Khai Hooi, 41, a designer, said that his Primary 2 son was recently placed on HBL after a schoolmate tested positive for Covid-19.
"As a parent, I would choose safety first. Although it's tough to learn online, I would rather my son be safe, and have HBL for the entire level if there's a positive case."