The Department of Justice last month transferred 70 asylum seekers across the country despite a recent confirmed case of Covid-19 at the Dublin hotel where they had been living, The Irish Times has learned.
A department spokesman confirmed that a guest who checked into the hotel – a branch of chain Travelodge near Dublin Airport – on March 7th fell ill and was hospitalised the next day, before being diagnosed with Covid-19.
While the guest did not return to the hotel, members of the party they were travelling with stayed there under advice to self-isolate for another two weeks. They left the hotel without developing symptoms on March 22nd. It is understood that members of staff at the Travelodge later tested positive for Covid-19.
Meanwhile, on March 18th and 19th, the group of 70 international protection applicants – many of whom had been living at the hotel for months – were moved to two separate emergency direct provision centres.
One of the centres is the Skellig Star Hotel in Cahersiveen, Co Kerry, where four cases of Covid-19 have since been diagnosed. None of the cases diagnosed in Cahersiveen are among those who were transferred from the Dublin hotel, it is understood.
While the exact chains of infection which caused the cases in the Travelodge and the direct provision centre in Cahersiveen are not known, Opposition figures said the case raises concerns.
Catherine Murphy, co-leader of the Social Democrats, said it was "exceptionally worrying to think that a group of people, whom the HSE were aware had shared a facility with a confirmed case of Covid-19, were moved across the country without, it appears, any testing having taken place".
The department declined to comment on when it became aware of the case of Covid-19 in the hotel. It said the HSE was aware of the case and “was consulted by the hotel and provided guidance”. However, the department would not clarify if the hotel or the HSE contacted it regarding the case of Covid-19 and the ongoing presence of the other members of the travelling party at the hotel. It said it “would only be notified by the HSE of confirmed cases relating to other individuals if there was a public health reason for doing so”.
Citing GDPR concerns, a spokeswoman for the HSE declined to answer questions about when it first became aware of the case, and whether it informed the Department of Justice.
Travelodge, which has since hosted more international protection applicants, did not respond to a request for comment, including whether it had told the department about the confirmed Covid-19 case.
Ms Murphy said it was “imperative now that the department clarify when they were made aware of the confirmed case of infection in the facility that these people were moved from”.
“We need to understand why, if they knew about the infection, they made a decision to proceed with the move, or if the HSE neglected to inform the department of the potential exposure even when it became clear that the department intended to move the people.”
The department said the relocation took place to “de-risk to the greatest extent possible by ensuring that our residents were not residing in any premises that was not in the exclusive use of the department”.
The Kildare North TD asked whether the department should be organising such transfers "in the midst of a pandemic given the public health advice regarding staying in one place and restricting movement".
The department said it had put a "stringent response to Covid-19" in place across its accommodation centres. Asylum seekers currently living at the Skellig Hotel told The Irish Times they were living two to a room.