'More complex than expected': WA Health Minister denies delay in school testing

Coronavirus testing of asymptomatic school students and teachers in Western Australia is yet to begin despite the state government initially planning to start in week two of the term.

But as schools enter week four, Health Minister Roger Cook on Tuesday denied there had been a delay in testing staff and students at 80 public schools across the state on a voluntary basis.

“It’s not a hold up, it’s just a lot more bloody complex than we had expected,” he said.

“The ethics approvals required in terms of any medical treatment of a child is obviously taken very seriously. So that process has taken a lot longer.”

On April 23, ahead of term 2 return, Mr Cook said the government had hoped to expand its testing regime to include the education sector.

In a media release on May 1 announcing the Telethon Kids Institute would conduct the DETECT program research in schools, the state government confirmed the study would start in the second week of May and the actual swab testing of teachers and students would not start until the coming weeks.

The list of 80 schools “invited” to initially take part in the “randomised testing” of students and staff was released in that same media release and, according to the government, reflected a range of socio-economic, educational, and cultural backgrounds.

While there was no evidence of community spread and schools were considered low-risk environments, Mr Cook said they wanted to get swabbing at schools as “quickly as possible”.

“The ethics approvals I understand are just about cleared,” he said.

“But it has proved a lot more complex than we first thought.”

Mr Cook said he had hoped swabbing would get started next week but it was in the hands of the Telethon Kids Institute researchers who had been given the mammoth task.

“They are putting things in place at a world-record pace,” he said.

“These complex research processes are usually put together over the space of about six months, we’re doing it in the space of three weeks so I ask everyone to please be patient.”

Mr Cook said the swab testing of children would be a less invasive oral and nasal test.

In a WAtoday readers’ poll, 80 per cent of more than 1000 voters said they would have their school-aged child tested, while 20 per cent said they would opt out.

The DETECT program will start “randomised testing” of school students and staff without symptoms and will later include fly-in, fly-out workers and frontline healthcare workers.

Curtin University and the Harry Perkins Institute are also involved in the program.

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