Staff and pupils at two County Derry schools have today begun participation in an NHS Covid-19 testing scheme.
St Mary’s Limavady and Limavady High School have been selected as part of a UK-wide programme which was announced in October.
Testing will initially be offered to all staff and students in Years 12, 13 and 14 across both schools.
Rapid lateral flow tests will be used for the scheme, similar to those used in the recent Liverpool pilot scheme.
The tests were recently criticised in a study published in The British Medical Journal, which raised concerns that the tests missed over 50% of cases.
The study warned the tests may give a 'false sense of reassurance'.
However, Dr Susan Hopkins, chief medical adviser to NHS Track and Trace, said the lateral flow tests could identify many cases of infection in people without symptoms.
She told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that the tests were helping to diagnose tests that would otherwise go undetected.
"What we are doing here is case detection. We are not saying people do not have the disease if their test is negative," she said.
"We are trying to say [to people who test positive] 'You do have the disease and now we want you to go and isolate for 10 days.' That is a whole different game-changer.
"We are also very clear that until we get a much lower prevalence of disease in this country that we shouldn't be changing our behaviours," she added.
Health Minister Robin Swann thanked the two schools for their particpation in the scheme.
"Work is progressing with a variety of local partners and experts on New Testing Interventions (NTIs) for a range of settings including this schools’ initiative," he said.
“The learning arising from the NTIs will help us to better understand how new technologies can be implemented and extended more widely across settings.
"It is important to be aware that these NTIs are still at an early stage of development, and consequently these new tests must be rolled out with careful planning and evaluation.
“I would also like to take this opportunity to thank Limavady High School and St Mary’s for their participation, and I would particularly like to thank the team in the Public Health Agency who have developed and are leading this NTI and colleagues in the Education Authority who continue to be instrumental in driving this important work forward.”
Education Minister Peter Weir said the tests would cause 'minimum disruption' to lessons.
"I welcome this initiative where pupils and staff, without symptoms, will be tested on a voluntary basis and I want to thank both schools for taking part," he said.
"The test will be supervised by trained staff and I expect there to be minimal disruption to lessons. Keeping our schools safe during the pandemic remains my top priority and I will continue to support schools in the months ahead.”
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