Three midlands meat plants with Covid-19 clusters defer reopening

Minister says it would not be appropriate for these factories to open during lockdown

The Kildare Chilling Company Meat Plant on the outskirts of Kildare Town, where there has been a significant outbreak of Covid-19 among employees. Photograph: Laura Hutton/The Irish Times

The Kildare Chilling Company Meat Plant on the outskirts of Kildare Town, where there has been a significant outbreak of Covid-19 among employees. Photograph: Laura Hutton/The Irish Times

 

Three of the four meat plants in the midlands where significant clusters of Covid-19 were found among the workforces have decided not to reopen tomorrow.

The Irish Dog Foods plant in Naas, Co Kildare, which shut after more than 30 Covid-19 cases were found, said in a statement on Sunday that it was deferring its reopening “pending further guidance from Government and its agencies”.

O’Brien’s Fine Foods, which runs the Brady’s Ham plant in Timahoe, Co Kildare, and Kildare Chilling, also confirmed that their factory would remain closed. The company announced they were suspending operations last Wednesday.

Last night Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly said meat plants in the midlands, which had reported large clusters of Covid-19, should not reopen tomorrow.

Mr Donnelly said the restrictions imposed on Kildare, Laois and Offaly were asking a lot of people and it would not be appropriate for these factories to be open during the two weeks of the lockdown.

O’Brien’s Fine Foods, where more than 80 of the 300-strong staff tested positive for Covid-19, said normal operations at its plant will not resume until August 18th.

It also said a further round of employee testing will be conducted on days seven and 14 and it said only those employees who test negative and meet public health guidelines will return to work.

A spokeswoman for O’Brien’s Fine Foods, which runs the plant, said all close contacts of those infected have been asked to self-isolate and the factory was undergoing a deep clean.

Paid

O’Brien’s Fine Foods said all staff will continue to be paid in full.

The company said once it does reopen workers would be tested every fortnight, while measures to cuts the risks created by staff travelling to work would be put in place , said the company .

Minister for Agriculture Dara Calleary on Friday said he intends to introduce regular Covid-19 testing for all 15,000 workers in meat processing plants in the State.

The immediate priority was to try to set up testing in the three counties, Kildare, Laois and Offaly, affected by the two-week lockdown and then extend it to other regions, he said.

Mr Calleary will meet the HSE and other agencies in the coming days to work through what he described as the “complex issues” involved and ascertain testing capacity.

Mr Calleary also said he had no difficulty with unannounced inspections being conducted by the Health and Safety Authority. “My overriding concern is to allow those who work in (plants) and the local communities to have the confidence to feel fully safe,” he said.

Meat Industry Ireland

Responding to fears in the wake of a number of outbreaks in meat and meat processing plants, industry lobby group Meat Industry Ireland (MII) said they acted “as a stark reminder of the persistent threat of Covid-19”.

A relentless effort and focus had to be maintained “to keep the virus out, protect staff, while also keeping the fresh meat supply chain in operation”, said MII, adding its members operated “robust protocols”.

Meat Industry Ireland on Friday met with Department of Agriculture officials, the acting chief medical officer Dr Ronan Glynn, and trade union representatives to review existing rules and consider additional actions.

“Speed of testing results and the track-and-trace process are critical, as is continuous clear communications with staff around all aspects of dealing with the Covid threat,” the lobby group declared.

A “very high proportion” of workers who tested positive were asymptomatic, so did not display any of the known symptoms of the virus, “contrary to what has been alleged in some quarters”.

Meat plants would “continue to be vigilant” against Covid-19, the lobby group added, and they would “continue to work with the Health Service Executive and other agencies, and will be guided by their advice”.