Coronavirus: All direct provision residents and staff to be offered Covid-19 testing
Government and HSE confirm rollout of voluntary and free testing for asylum seekers
A direct provision centre in Newbridge, Co Kildare, that suffered a Covid-19 outbreak earlier this year. Photograph: Colin Keegan/Collins
All residents and staff in direct provision centres will be offered Covid-19 testing from Saturday.
In a joint statement on Friday, the Department of Justice and the HSE said: “In line with the recommendations of the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET), a comprehensive programme of Covid-19 testing is starting across all accommodation centres housing asylum seekers and refugees in the State.
“This covers residents and staff in accommodation centres (both permanent and temporary) and in emergency reception and orientation centres. Testing will roll out across centres from September 12th, 2020.” The testing will be voluntary and free.
The commitment comes a month after a report from the Irish Refugee Council found that more than half (55 per cent) of respondents in direct provision centres did not feel safe during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Half of respondents said they were unable to socially distance from other residents; 42 per cent shared a bedroom with a non-family member and 46 per cent shared a bathroom with a non-family member.
One respondent said: “We could only tackle this virus using social distancing but in the centre there isn’t any social distancing. Living [with] three/four or more people in the room is not [the] proper way to avoid this virus in my opinion.
“So staying [in] direct provision is not very good in this time, because if one gets the virus then it can be easily spread out.”
The council was among several organisations calling for asylum seekers with underlying conditions to be moved out of congregated accommodation centres, arguing: “Overcrowding and shared rooms [in such centres] is a major cause for concern for those with pre-existing health conditions.”
Clusters of the virus in direct provision centres in counties Kerry and Kildare have heightened concerns amid the pandemic.
In their statement on Friday, the Department of Justice and HSE said accommodation centres posed “additional challenges during the pandemic to prevent and control the spread of the virus”.
They stressed: “Neither a refusal to participate [in the testing programme] nor a positive result will affect a person’s status or application for international protection in any way.
“We strongly encourage all residents and staff to participate to keep themselves, their families and their communities safe from coronavirus. Each resident and staff member will be offered a test. Children aged under five years and people who have previously tested positive for Covid-19 will not be tested.”