The Department of Education has said the HSE is working on a plan to roll-out antigen testing for close contacts of a confirmed Covid-19 case in primary schools.

The introduction of the rapid testing system was discussed today between the department, public health officials and education partners.

It was part of regular meetings aimed at ensuring the safe operation of schools during the pandemic.

A spokesperson for the department said "the Minister for Health has requested that the HSE establish a programme of rapid antigen testing of close contacts in specific primary school settings, in response to the notification of Covid-19 cases".

It will be "guided by agreed thresholds or criteria informed by recently published ECDC guidance on the management of close contacts".

The spokesperson said "the HSE will now work to implement this programme as soon as possible".

The Irish National Teachers' Organisation has welcomed the decision to introduce antigen testing in primary schools.

General Secretary John Boyle called for the rollout of the tests to happen soon and said there were more than 6,000 primary school children absent from school due to the virus at present.

Speaking on RTÉ's News at One, he said the next six weeks were critical and he appealed to anyone with symptoms of Covid-19 to stay away from schools.

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Mr Boyle said the INTO was told this morning that the Department of Education has been asked by Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan to work with public health to deliver antigen testing of close contacts in specific circumstances in primary schools.

He said no timeline was given, adding "'we cannot afford to the extent that we could have another doubling of cases", which happened in last month. He said the decision would see an element of contact tracing take place to ensure that well children do not stay off school.

Mr Boyle added that while children can get a mild dose, there is no family that wants to see their child contracting Covid-19.

He also welcomed as "sensible" the advice that face-to-face parent-teacher meetings do not take for now.

"Given the alarming infection rate amongst children of primary school age, antigen testing could become an important additional infection prevention and control measure in schools," Mr Boyle said.

"Political leadership is essential to ensure swift action on this front."

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly said on Sunday that it was likely that rapid antigen testing would be deployed in school settings before Christmas.