Cahersiveen asylum seeker with Covid-19 symptoms not tested for a month

Resident who went into self-isolation in mid-March was not tested until mid-April

A resident at the Cahersiveen direct provision centre who went into self-isolation in mid-March was not tested for coronavirus for nearly a month despite displaying symptoms upon arrival in the town, it is understood.

The Department of Justice revealed earlier this week that it was told on March 24th an asylum seeker at the newly-opened Skellig Star accommodation centre had gone into self-isolation after being transferred from Dublin the previous week.

Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan had previously stated that no residents at the centre displayed any symptoms of Covid-19 for more than two weeks after arriving from Dublin and that the first cases did not appear for "well over a fortnight".

However, on Tuesday, the department said it had made an “honest mistake” and that following further investigation had discovered “a form” was sent to a justice official on March 24th stating that one resident in the Cahersiveen centre was self-isolating with suspected Covid-19.


The department said the resident subsequently tested negative for the virus. However, it has since emerged that this person, who spent two weeks in self-isolation, was not tested until mid-April.

‘A private matter’

A source close to the centre told The Irish Times that the resident, who was suffering from a cough upon arrival in Cahersiveen and went into self-isolation, was not tested until mass testing was conducted at the Skellig Star around April 21st.

“She was not tested in the beginning as direct provision centres were not priority at the time and the criteria was much higher,” said the source. “The test we got can only show if you currently have the virus, not if you already had it.”

The department reiterated on Tuesday that none of the residents who went on to test positive for the virus had been transferred from the Travelodge hotel in Dublin where a guest was confirmed as suffering from Covid-19.

Asked to comment on the decision not to carry out testing at the centre until mid-April despite being informed of a potential case, a department spokesman said the medical care details of any direct provision resident was “a private matter to them” and that testing was reported in a way that “respects the rights of individuals and their confidentiality”.

In the context of an outbreak of Covid-19 in a residential setting such as a direct provision centre, decisions around medical care would be a matter for the HSE public health team, said the spokesman.

A HSE spokeswoman said it could not comment on individual cases and referred the request back to the Department of Justice. If there is a virus outbreak in a residential centre, an “outbreak control team” is set up to provide advice and guidance on self-isolation, cleaning, infection prevention and control and to support the management of positive patients, she said.

In mid-March individuals needed to experience either a fever and/or respiratory symptoms to qualify for a test. Revised criteria introduced on March 25th meant patients needed to display two major coronavirus symptoms and fall into a priority group in order to be tested.

Psychological support

The Department of Justice says it has established a number of self-isolation facilities around the country for any direct provision resident who needed to quarantine.

All these facilities have their own bedroom and an en-suite bathroom and meals are delivered directly to their room to support self-isolation, said a spokesman.

Psychological support is provided to residents by on-site NGOs who are supported by a healthcare team, it added.

Cahersiveen’s community and business alliance called earlier this week for Mr Flanagan’s resignation and accused the minister of misleading members of the public and residents at the centre as to when the first suspected case of Covid-19 was reported.

The group also criticised the Minister for failing to carry out a comprehensive assessment of the hotel ahead of its opening for asylum seekers and for the lack of consultation with the Cahersiveen community.

Sorcha Pollak

Sorcha Pollak

Sorcha Pollak is an Irish Times reporter and cohost of the In the News podcast