Calls for public health authorities to publish details of Covid-19 outbreaks

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There have been calls for public health authorities to publish further details of Covid-19 outbreaks in businesses and public settings.

Sinn Féin’s Pearse Doherty said that communities “deserve clarity and transparency” over clusters of cases.

He told the Dáil that the public having to rely on the “rumour mill” is not good enough.

Mr Doherty was referring to meat plants, which have been the sites of more than 40 clusters and around 1,600 cases across the country.

“They were the principal reason for the localised lockdowns in Kildare, Laois and Offaly,” he added.

“Meat barons are playing with people’s lives in the interest of profit, plain and simple and they’re getting away with it.

“What hold does the meat barons have over Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil?

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“Outbreaks in meat plants have accounted for one third of all workplace clusters.”

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said he believes public health authorities, the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) and the HSE should be as transparent “as possible” in putting out details of where clusters are.

However, he warned about the risks of stigmatising or identifying people or households: “I think it’s important at the same time that we’re careful about what we mean by that.

“A cluster can be two cases connected. So in putting out public information about clusters, we need to do so in a way that doesn’t end up stigmatising people or doesn’t end up in a situation where individuals or individual households are identified.”

Testing halts

Mr Doherty also warned about the postponement of serial testing in meat plants last week.

He also said that, according to a Freedom of Information response, there were 226 cases associated with one plant in July.

“We understand that that plant was in Cork, and that the plant was never closed down,” Mr Doherty added.

“Yet last week testing in meat plants was suspended. Yesterday we learned of another outbreak in a meat plant in Waterford and this is causing huge concern. At least 28 cases are associated with this cluster and more tests are pending.”

Mr Doherty also highlighted reports that meat plant staff were being bussed to work on a packed 50-seater bus.

Mr Varadkar said the Government has never told meat plants to stay open contrary to public health advice.

He said that serial testing in meat factories resumed on Monday following a surge in demand for wide-spread testing in the community and hospitals last week.

“The decision to close any meat plant or indeed any business is made by public health officials, or by the Health and Safety Authority as appropriate,” Mr Varadkar added.

“If a meat plant needs to close well then it should close.”

It comes as Helen McEntee said that additional Covid-19 restrictions in Dublin could come into force before the weekend.

NPHET met today to discuss recommendations for the capital, which will be considered by the new Covid-19 oversight group.

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