Asylum seekers staying in emergency accommodation at a hotel in Bray, Co Wicklow, have been advised to restrict their movements following an outbreak of Covid-19 at the centre.
Residents at the Esplanade Hotel in Bray received a letter from the HSE on Thursday morning informing them of “a cluster of Covid-19 infection” in the centre where they are living.
Two people at the centre have tested positive for the virus so far.
A total of 115 people in receipt of emergency accommodation are living at the centre, 20 of them children, according to latest Department of Justice figures.
The letter states that testing was already carried out on a number of residents on Tuesday, with further testing set to take place on Friday, August 21st.
The HSE requests in the letter that residents do not go shopping, use public transport or go into any crowded settings and that those with jobs inform their employer that they will be unable to attend work until they are told it is safe to do so.
“These instructions are being given and enforceable under the law,” the letter states in bold. “You have a legal obligation to follow them.”
One resident, who spoke to The Irish Times on condition of anonymity, said people at the centre continue to eat together in large groups and many share a room with a stranger.
“The situation is very distressing mentally but people are too scared to speak up,” said the resident. “I’m scared about the virus now too.”
A duty manager at the hotel confirmed that two people there had tested positive. “We are following all health and safety guidelines, applying all necessary measures regarding PPE use and are in regular contact with the HSE and the Department of Justice,” she told The Irish Times.
“This is a large property so there’s space for lots of social distancing, with no cramped conditions.”
A HSE spokeswoman said she could not comment on individual cases or outbreaks and that the HSE could not provide details on direct provision centres affected by Covid-19 or the testing of residents in centres.
“The HSE is aware of the dangers of the spread of Covid-19 in congregated settings such as direct provision centres,” she said. “We actively manage every outbreak in direct provision centres and are currently finalising a plan to mass test residents of direct provision centres to further control the risks to these residents.
“Direct provision is the responsibility of the Department of Justice and queries in relation to same should be directed to that Government department,” she said.
Asked for comment, the Department of Justice said reporting on outbreaks and the numbers of confirmed cases in all settings was a matter for the HSE and queries should be directed to it.
Covid-19 clusters have been reported in a number of direct provision and emergency accommodation centres in recent weeks, with some linked to staff working at meat plants.
HSE chief executive Paul Reid said on Thursday that health officials would carry out serial testing among the 8,000 people living across about 80 direct provision and emergency accommodation centres.
Acting chief medical officer Ronan Glynn said on Wednesday that outbreaks in direct provision centres, food processing plants and construction sites accounted for about 500 of the more than 1,200 new coronavirus cases in the last two weeks.
Earlier this week, the Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL) called on the Government to take more steps to protect people living in direct provision, while the Irish Refugee Council has said the Government must replace the direct provision system without delay to stop the further spread of coronavirus among residents in overcrowded settings and society at large.