No plan for legislation to close meat plants in cases of Covid-19 outbreaks

Almost 1,500 cases of Covid-19 linked to meat plants in year to August, says NPHET

Cases of Covid-19 have been linked to 28 meat or poultry plants in the State. File photograph: Getty Images

Cases of Covid-19 have been linked to 28 meat or poultry plants in the State. File photograph: Getty Images

 

There are no plans to bring in legislation granting the Government powers to forcibly close meat plants over Covid-19 outbreaks.

While the Government has powers to close pubs and restaurants under Covid-19 emergency regulations, it has no such powers for meat plants or other businesses.

On Sunday the Irish Mail on Sunday newspaper reported the HSE sought legal advice in May on its powers to close meat plants and other businesses. It was informed any such closures would be unlikely to stand up in court.

It is understood that since then no move has been made to draft legislation and that there are no immediate plans to do so.

Meat plants have been the site of several outbreaks since the start of the pandemic and have attracted criticism for their treatment of workers. Last month the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) said there had been almost 1,500 cases of Covid-19 linked to 28 meat or poultry factories across the State.

This includes 226 cases associated with just one plant in July. The plant, which is located in Cork, did not cease operations following the outbreak.

A handful of meat plants closed temporarily during the lockdown of Kildare, Laois and Offaly but they did this on a voluntary basis.

A Department of Health spokeswoman did not answer when asked if there are plans for stronger legislation in the area.

She pointed to the “continuing emphasis on the need for all sectors of society and the economy to work together to prevent the spread of this virus and protect public health.

“With regard to the meat-processing industry, HSE Public Health Departments have responded quickly to all emerging outbreaks and Outbreak Control Teams have been established where necessary.

“A number of meat plants have also suspended operations for a period of time in line with public health recommendations. In addition, the HSE continues to undertake a national serial testing programme for workers in the meat industry in order to detect new cases of Covid-19 as they emerge.”

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