Covid-19: Testing under way at Cahersiveen direct provision centre

Community fearful that rampant virus will spread from hotel site into local population

Covid-19 testing is being carried out at a direct provision centre in Co Kerry after an outbreak.

Healthcare workers visited the Skellig Star hotel in Cahersiveen, Co Kerry, on Tuesday to continue testing people from the centre. It is understood 20 residents were tested last week with results scheduled to arrive today.

The Health Service Executive did not confirm whether testing had taken place but photographs taken in Cahersiveen showed civil defence members in masks co-ordinating the operation outside the hotel. It follows the arrival of 70 people to the town who were transferred from Dublin last month as part of Government efforts to stem the spread of coronavirus.

Four people who tested positive for the virus were moved to a self-isolation facility in Cork last week, according to chairman of the Cahersiveen Community and Business Alliance Jack Fitzpatrick.

The Department of Justice said any announcements on cases or outbreaks was a matter for the HSE or the National Public Health Emergency Team and that the HSE would only comment if there was a public health reason to do so.

Mr Fitzpatrick said there had been a “ veil of secrecy” around the use of the hotel as a direct provision and called for “openness and transparency” around testing.

In an email sent to Kerry TDs, Mr Fitzgerald requested that hotel residents be compelled to self-isolate indoors to avoid spreading the virus into the town.

Fianna Fáil Cllr Michael Cahill said clarity around confirmed cases needed to be laid bare, warning that "in the absence of truth, hysteria can fill the vacuum and that would only make a very bad situation even worse".

Sarah-Jane Maguire, who lives in Cahersiveen, said people felt “genuinely scared” about the potential spread of the virus, particularly among the town’s elderly population.

“I believe people in this town have no issue with the asylum seekers . . . [but] it could decimate the town.”

Ms Maguire said she was no longer comfortable doing her shopping in the local supermarket for fear of picking up the virus and infecting her family.

She added that mismanagement at a national level was also placing asylum seekers at risk. “This is about human beings, they’re not being treated justly.”

What were asylum seekers told?

Azwar, who was moved with his family from the Ballsbridge hotel in Dublin to the Skellig Star hotel, said asylum seekers only discovered there were cases among their group after reading media reports and speaking to the Cahersiveen community.

He claimed the four residents who tested positive had displayed virus symptoms during their first week at the Kerry hotel and subsequently retired to their rooms where they remained for a fortnight.

“No one from the centre informed us they had positive results, we just saw they were moved urgently. We received no advice to isolate.”

A department spokesman said fewer than 100 residents were staying at the Skellig hotel which has capacity for 150. This smaller number allowed for “social distancing within centres” and enabled “cocooning measures for the most vulnerable”.

Meal distribution is “staggered” and only one person at a time can enter the laundry area and residents who are required to remain in their room and have meals delivered to their door, said the spokesman.

Sorcha Pollak

Sorcha Pollak

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