Thousands of air purifiers have been ordered for New Zealand schools, to help filter virus particles from the stuffy air Kiwi kids are breathing in class.
Experts have been calling for the air cleaners as another step in helping to prevent the spread of Covid-19 in classrooms as school returns.
Education officials today confirmed 5000 Samsung air purifiers had been ordered, but only 500 will be here in March, with the remaining 4500 not due to arrive until winter.
With more than 2500 schools in New Zealand, there won't be enough air cleaners for everyone. They will be used in a targeted way, rather than being deployed in every classroom.
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Ministry of Education officials have previously estimated around 80 per cent of New Zealand classrooms have adequate ventilation but a small number require modification, and some that can't be modified would require mechanical means to clean the air.
They also planned to have fleets of air cleaners that could be moved around to schools where there was an outbreak, to help give parents confidence it was safe for their kids to return to or stay at school.
Schools will remain open under all phases of the traffic light system, meaning many kids will be back in class from next week - despite the whole country having moved to red in light of Omicron beginning to spread.
In a statement this morning, Hipkins said good ventilation was important to minimise the risk of airborne transmission of Covid-19.
"I've heard that schools have done a good job keeping fresh air moving through their classrooms, but we know opening doors and windows to get fresh air flow won't always be practical."
He said 500 air cleaners were expected to arrive in March, with the other 4500 due by June. They would be used in targeted areas within some schools in the coming months.
Last year it was announced 2500 portable carbon dioxide (CO2) monitors had been ordered as part of a "ventilation self-assessment toolkit" which schools could use to find which classrooms had good fresh air flow and which ones didn't.
Hipkins said those CO2 monitors would be used in addition to more than 8000 internal environment monitors which were already in schools or were soon to be deployed.
"I ask any school with concerns about ventilation to reach out to the Ministry of Education for support."
Opening windows and doors was still the best way to improve fresh air flow in classrooms, according to the early observations from a small Niwa study carried out with the Ministry of Education late last year, the statement said.
The study found good ventilation removed air from inside and replaced it with clean air from outside, preventing the build-up of potentially contaminated air.
CO2 levels in the space were a good proxy for how fresh the air was.
"This aligns with the advice and views of international experts – that is that there is no substitute for fresh air flow," Hipkins said.
"During the study, there were days when opening doors and windows was less effective – for example when there was no outdoor breeze, or when it rained and schools were not able to open windows and doors as often. We know there will be cases where schools need to supplement existing natural ventilation.
"It's important we keep our tamariki as safe as possible, so in addition to the investment in portable air cleaners, the ministry is also exploring simple systems to assist air quality and natural ventilation in schools."
In November last year officials told Hipkins they wanted to place the first order of air purifiers by the end of November, with the expectation they would arrive in April. In mid-January officials planned to review predicted supply and demand for a second order.
The Ministry of Education this afternoon told the Herald the order for 5000 Samsung air purifiers had been finalised on December 24 with staggered dispatch timings.
The date when they arrived could change based on global shipping times.
Scott Evans, hautū (leader) of infrastructure, said since then the Ministry had been finalising logistical details like shipping.
"The Samsung air cleaners were selected following a procurement process which aligned with MBIE's Emergency Procurement protocols," he said.
State and state-integrated schools would be sent the ventilation self-assessment toolkit over the next two weeks to help them find the areas where natural ventilation wasn't sufficient.
Samsung air purifiers were also the option chosen by Victoria's Department of Education. The state has purchased more than 50,000 of the Samsung cleaners for classrooms, with many arriving just as school is about to begin.