Only two positive Covid tests were reported in the first week of a mass testing trial among college students in Newcastle.
Newcastle Sixth Form College confirmed that, of almost 850 students and staff tested last week, only a couple came back positive for the virus.
The Westmorland Road college, which has 1,200 students and 100 staff in total, was chosen by the Government last month as a pilot location for rapid asymptomatic testing among schools and colleges.
The trial, which uses the ‘lateral flow’ tests that can return results in just half an hour, began last week and has been hailed as an experiment that could offer a "long-term solution" for UK schools.
Under the rules of the pilot project, classmates of the two students who tested positive are being given daily Covid tests to allow them to keep attending lessons – without the need to self-isolate.
Gerard Garvey, principal of Newcastle Sixth Form College, said: ‘When we were approached to be one of only two sixth forms in the country to trial the NHS Test and Trace mass testing programme, we immediately saw the opportunity and benefits this could bring.
“We believe that the mass testing of our students will create the safest possible space for students to continue their studies, and by using the latest available solutions we can ensure that all of our students can remain at college with confidence and the reassurance that accurate mass testing can deliver.”
He added: “The advantage of testing students and staff weekly is that we can now support students who would normally be required to self-isolate for 14 days at home, using a ‘test to enable’ programme.
“This involves daily testing before college begins, which allows them to come to college as normal.
"The response of our students has been magnificent and they have shown great maturity in taking part in the trial.
“With the assistance of NHS Test and Trace, DHSC and the armed forces, we have a great team working with us to conduct this trial, which will hopefully provide a longer-term solution at education facilities across the country.
“Our participation in this trial is assisting in the national effort to identify just one of the ways we can move forward nationally and reduce and remove some of the current restrictions on education establishments.”
Newcastle and Northumbria universities are beginning large-scale testing of their students this week, to allow them to go home safely during the Government travel window from December 3 to 9.
If students test negative, they will be advised to travel home immediately. But if they test positive, students must self-isolate for 10 days and will be contacted by Test and Trace to receive a separate PCR test to confirm the diagnosis.
Further rollouts of mass testing across the North East are expected in the coming days and weeks, as part of efforts to drive down infection rates in areas going into Tier 3 of the local Covid restrictions on Wednesday.
However, the region’s health officials will not be conducting a city-wide asymptomatic testing programme like the one that has been held in Liverpool, instead preferring a more targeted approach that could see specific communities or workplaces identified for testing.