By Michelle Devane, PA
The return of students to campuses in the coming academic year is not contingent on the success of a pilot antigen testing scheme, the Higher Education Minister has said.
Simon Harris said the trial scheme could act as an “early robust warning system” as institutions reopen their doors from September.
A €1.2 million pilot antigen testing programme for Covid-19 is being rolled out across four universities in advance of colleges and universities reopening.
The trial will involve 8,000 staff and students from UCD, TCD, NUI Galway and UCC taking part in rapid testing over the summer months.
There will be two types of testing — serial testing where students and staff sign up to be tested twice a week with two different tests — and random sampling surveillance testing.
Mr Harris said he hopes the scheme will allow experts to make informed decisions about the future of rapid tests.
“Let’s look and see is there a way of putting in place a robust early warning system for Covid-19 as we reopen our campuses,” Mr Harris told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland programme.
“The opening of colleges is not contingent on this,” he added.
“We’ve published a very detailed plan to get our students back to campus, and that’s on the basis of vaccination.
“What we’re asking is, when you have asymptomatic people, people with no symptoms, is there a way of putting a testing regime in place in colleges that could detect the potential for an early outbreak and take action?”
A decision on the use of antigen testing on campuses will be made in September once the results of the trial are submitted to the minister.
The Wicklow TD said that if Covid testing is introduced on campuses in the autumn it would be on a voluntary basis, rather than being compulsory.
A return to campus teaching 'in a safe, structured way'. Great to see the path forward. https://t.co/6mkurS9c82
— HEA (@hea_irl) June 15, 2021
On Tuesday, Mr Harris unveiled details of the Government’s plan for a safe and structured return to on-site activity for all students and staff for the coming academic year.
From September, small lectures, tutorials, workshops, classroom-based teaching and learning as well as laboratory teaching and learning can take place on site.
Libraries, canteens, workspaces, research, sports facilities, bars, clubs and societies’ meetings will also be able to resume.
It is expected large lecture halls will also be allowed with modifications.
Details are set to be confirmed in July.
The plan has been approved by public health chiefs.
It will be reviewed every month and Mr Harris will update Government over the summer months.
Funding will be made available to institutions to assist them with the return of students in the midst of the pandemic.