Covid-19 clusters affecting ‘up to half the workforce’ in some meat plants

Covid-19 clusters are affecting up to half the workforce in some meat plants, independent TD for Roscommon-Galway Denis Naughten told the Dáil yesterday, Thursday, May 14.

The TD flagged his concerns with the country’s response to such clusters to date and posed questions as to test result delays and a failure of instructing employees to self-isolate while awaiting results.

“We have a serious problem within our meat plants, which should come as no surprise because this is a global problem that has sadly been replicated here in Ireland,” deputy Naughten said.

Our response to this can at best be described as lethargic. There are now clusters of infection surrounding meat plants where the levels of infection within the plants themselves is up to one third or in some instances half of the workforce.

“This seriously brings into question the Covid protection measures implemented in these plants.”

Deputy Naughten raised questions as to why it took “up to two weeks to return test results to some meat plant employees”, and why staff were not instructed to self-isolate while waiting for test results.

“Instead they returned to work the very next day into meat plants where public health doctors were concerned enough about the scale of infection to order testing of every employee,” the TD said.

Because of this failure to self-isolate, staff members who potentially showed no sign of infection, they could have been spreading the infection asymptomatically.

“This has resulted in a situation where the negative results issued to employees are worthless, as they could have become infected in the interim period by employees who were asymptomatically positive while awaiting test results,” the deputy contended.

“We have serious lessons to learn from the manner in which testing and the delivery of results have taken place in the meat plants,” deputy Naughten warned.

Safeguards

In response to the independent TD’s comments, Minister for Health Simon Harris highlighted that food production is an essential service but protocols have been put in place, such as a reduction in throughput rates at plants, the extension of operating hours and other safeguards such as Perspex screens, checking temperatures and additional personal protection equipment (PPE).

On foot of a number of clusters arising in meat plants, a national outbreak control team was established on Thursday, May 7, with further meetings planned.

“This group will oversee and co-ordinate the approach to Covid-19 outbreaks in meat plants in Ireland and as part of its output, it will issue guidance documents to all meat processing facilities,” the minister concluded.