Serial testing at meat plant in Ballymahon a possibility under new plans

Schools reopening: Strict Covid measures in place

Jessica Thompson

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Jessica Thompson

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jessica.thompson@longfordleader.ie

Serial testing at meat plant in Ballymahon a possibility under new plans

A proposal to roll out regular Covid-19 testing at meat plants around the country is set to be presented to the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) this week, and will likely result in serial testing of workers at the Kepak facility in Ballymahon, the Department of Agriculture has said.

The plant has already had a cluster of Covid-19 in May and has since been following strict public health regulations to protect employees and management from any further outbreak.

“There’s a lot of pressure to test at meat factories again but there’s hope that there’s immunity in Kepak now after a lot of the workers got it earlier in the year,” said local councillor, Pat O’Toole.

“They’re hoping they can’t get it again but there’s no proof that they can’t.

“They’re also aware of what protocols and guidelines they have to follow,” he added.

“I think that the council and the superintendent and gardaí that spoke Polish and Portuguese going in there earlier in the year to explain to them what they had to do made a big difference to them,” said Cllr O’Toole.

“There was no point putting signs up everywhere if they couldn’t read them, but they all understand now and they’re adhering to requirements.”

The pressure is being put on meat plants now following a number of clusters and the subsequent lockdown of three counties last week - Kildare, Laois and Offaly.

Meat-factory workers in these counties will be the first to undergo weekly testing before the plan is rolled out nationwide to processing plants with more than 50 employees.

“The onus is on meat plants to be especially vigilant and to have clear guidance, measures and protocols put in place to prevent another outbreak like the ones we have already seen in this and other counties,” said Cathaoirleach of Longford County Council, Paul Ross.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, and at the time of going to print, Longford has had a total of 288 cases of Covid-19, 173 of which were confirmed to be in the town of Ballymahon.

Those 173 cases account for approximately 60% of the county’s total and just 1.1% of the national total which, as of Tuesday afternoon, stood at 26,768. The death toll at the same time was 1,772.

At the time of going to print, Longford had not had a case of Covid-19 confirmed in over three weeks, with the last case confirmed on Friday, July 24.

Prior to that, the county went three weeks without a diagnosis of coronavirus and, since June 1, there have been only five cases confirmed in total in county Longford.

Meanwhile, schools are preparing to open in the first week of September with Meán Scoil Mhuire sending out details this week of its Covid-19 restrictions.

The school will see students wearing face masks, and being restricted to their classrooms for lunch and breaktimes, while ensuring social distancing measures are maintained.

Students will also be asked to wear their PE gear for the entire day on their allocated PE day, and water fountains will not be operational.

Parents are also asked to ensure their children have adequate pens and stationary, as materials will not be shared among students.

Students will be asked to use an online food ordering for lunch and breaktime and only students with lunch passes will be permitted to leave the school, though it is strongly advised students remain on the premises.

“We are currently working on reducing class sizes for year groups,” read a letter to parents from the school.

“As a consequence of this, there may be teacher changes across many subjects. This is an unavoidable result of the necessary adaptations required for our safe return to school.”