Over half of Covid-19 cases in meat factories asymptomatic

59% of Covid-19 cases in meat factories were asymptomatic, according to the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET).

At the meeting of the Oireachtas Special Committee on Covid-19 Response, chair of NPHET Professor Philip Nolan said that the proportion of asymptomatic workers in meat factories, which was 59%, “mirrors the experience internationally”.

Prof. Nolan was responding to a question put forward by Independent TD Matt Shanahan about testing in meat factories.

‘No concern that there were false positives’

Deputy Shanahan asked if false positives were recorded as asymptomatic cases in meat factories.

Prof. Nolan said he had “no concern that there were false positives because the setting they are in is a high-prevalence setting”.

“The disease was clearly there and that gives one confidence that the positives were true positives,” Prof. Nolan said.

“It is only when one is screening large numbers of people who are very unlikely to have the disease that there is a concern about false positives.

The proportion of asymptomatic people, which was 59%, mirrors the experience internationally.

“When one goes in and tests everybody in a large workplace setting, one finds that at least half of the cases are asymptomatic. That was the case in the recent set of outbreaks in meat factories; with 41% symptomatic and 59% asymptomatic.”

Half of workplace clusters in meat plants

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly said that before the recent surge of Covid-19 cases in Co. Kildare, nearly half of the workplace clusters in the country had been in meat processing plants.

“That is the experience around the world,” Minister Donnelly said.

“It is believed that travel may have played a part in terms of workers sharing commutes to and from work.

“It is believed accommodation also played a part in terms of congregated settings.

“When I ask the public health experts this question; they are at pains to say that there are a lot of other unknown factors.

“For example, there may have been a super-spreader or several super-spreaders but they do not know that.

It is very important that in trying to identify what happened we do not lay blame anywhere – the only thing to blame is a deadly virus and we are in the middle of a global pandemic.