Meat plant outbreaks expose ‘weak points’ of Irish society

Recent outbreaks of Covid-19 linked to meat processing plants and direct provision centres have exposed the “weak points” of Irish society, according to a professor of health systems at DCU.

Professor Anthony Staines says the recent spike in cases in the Midlands region has been driven in part by the country’s housing crisis.

He says the State must do more to protect migrant workers renting overcrowded shared homes and residents of direct provision centres.

We’ve seen this in the direct provision centres where there is a shamefully high rate of infection, and that’s simply driven by crowding, it’s not possible to isolate yourself if you’re sharing a bedroom with three other people, it’s a nonsense.

“One of the weak points in our society is housing supply. And I would wonder if a significant number of these cases are not arising in people who are living in crowded housing,” he said.

“We’ve seen this in the direct provision centres where there is a shamefully high rate of infection, and that’s simply driven by crowding, it’s not possible to isolate yourself if you’re sharing a bedroom with three other people, it’s a nonsense.”

174 new cases of Covid-19 were confirmed in the Republic yesterday – 110 in Kildare alone – as a lockdown took effect in the Midlands counties of Kildare, Laois and Offaly in response to the spike there.

The figure was the largest number of confirmed cases reported in the State in one day since May.

Community spread

It comes as Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly has defended the local lockdowns, saying he hopes the restrictions will prevent the virus spreading beyond the clusters linked to meatpacking plants.

“Some people are asking, have we moved too quickly. Could we not just have isolated the workforces involved and their close contacts and have left it at that,” he said.

“The public health experts are absolutely clear on this. The objective is to limit the spread of the virus into the community, to vulnerable groups and so forth, and in order to do that, you have to act before you see that spread.”

One Co Kildare meat plant has said it has found the “sudden spike” in Covid-19 cases among its employees “difficult to comprehend” as more than 80 cases were confirmed among its workers in the past week.

O’Brien Fine Foods has suspended all operations for a 14 day period with staff continuing to be paid in full, and has said it plans to test workers every 14 days once full operations resume.