Meat industry says Covid-19 spread ‘a huge learning curve’

Sharp rise in cases at Irish meat plants to 828 is concerning, says senior health official

Rosderra Irish Meats plant in Roscrea, Co Tipperary, where, according to Sinn Féin TD Brian Stanley, by April 30th, 140 workers were out sick and 120 had tested positive. Photograph: Diarmuid Greene

Rosderra Irish Meats plant in Roscrea, Co Tipperary, where, according to Sinn Féin TD Brian Stanley, by April 30th, 140 workers were out sick and 120 had tested positive. Photograph: Diarmuid Greene

 

A spokesman for Meat Industry Ireland (MII) has said meat plants will continue to work with the HSE and local control teams to combat the spread of Covid-19.

The number of cases in meat plants has increased by more than 300 to 828, according to latest figures from the National Public Health Emergency Team.

The sharp rise in the number of coronavirus cases related to outbreaks in meat processing plants in the past week was described as “concerning” by Dr Ronan Glynn, deputy chief medical officer, on Tuesday.

There are now 16 clusters – defined as two or more cases – across meat processing plants. The issue will be discussed at a meeting of NPHET on Friday.

“This is a huge learning curve,” Cormac Healy told RTÉ radio’s Morning Ireland on Wednesday.

“I fully understand concerns at the unfortunate number of clusters,” he said. Mr Healy said where clusters have occurred the HSE has been engaged in “several of those facilities” and full site screenings have been carried out.

Mr Healy pointed out that of the 56 meat plants in the country working under approval from the Department of Agriculture, a significant number had zero cases.

“The measures employed are working.”

On the issue of controls within the industry, Mr Healy said such controls had been put in place from the early days of the virus.

“Meat Industry Ireland introduced measures well before the government protocols. We put together our own based on knowledge of best practice.”

A “significant suite” of measures are in place, he said, and they are constantly being augmented.

When asked about the challenge of meat industry workers living in shared accommodation and if plans were being made to provide alternatives where staff could self isolate, Mr Healy said accommodation was shared across many industries.

The work force of Meat Industry Ireland was largely Irish and European with fewer than 20 per cent working in the country under the permit system, he added.

The rules apply equally to everyone whether they share accommodation or not, he said.