27 May 2022

Figures don’t add up for meat plant Covid-19 testing suspension

SIPTU demand immediate recommencement of Covid-19 testing for workers in meat processing industry

Figures don’t add up for meat plant Covid-19 testing suspension

SIPTU demand immediate recommencement of Covid-19 testing for workers in meat processing industry

The Government has failed to explain why there is insufficient capacity to perform Covid testing in meat plants this week and has failed to provide the numbers to justify this decision, says Denis Naughten TD.

In the Dáil this afternoon the Tánaiste stated that there were 16,000 tested on Monday and that demand for testing has “fallen back since”. He went on to point out that the HSE has capacity to test 15,000 people a day.

Deputy Naughten stated, “Since 21 August the HSE has tested on average 751 meat plant employees each day and I cannot understand why, at a minimum, this rate of testing cannot continue if there is capacity to test 15,000 people every day."

“Clearly there is a shortfall in testing capacity, and we need some honesty from the HSE on what the actual capacity for Covid testing is.”

Deputy Naughten added, “We must hunt Covid out of meat plants not chase it from county to county.

“After completing just about 10% of the serial screening programme within the meat and food processing sector, the HSE has suspended the programme.

“This is despite the fact that if this programme was done during the summer months, when there was ample capacity, it would have avoided the lock downs in Kildare, Laois and Offaly.

“Over four months ago I highlighted serious flaws in the management of Covid-19 infection within the meat industry yet those in authority were more interested in tackling the man than addressing the fundamental problems that were occurring right across the meat processing sector.

“The risk posed within the sector arose due to the close quarters within which people work and live, the atmosphere for survival and transmission of the virus and the large number of asymptomatic positive cases. Yet rather than deal with the significant Covid-19 risk the focus was on circling the wagons.

“While we must ensure that all those referred for a Covid test receive it in a timely manner, unless we concentrate on potential reservoirs of infection in the food industry, we will never be able to manage it,” concluded Deputy Naughten.

Meanwhile, SIPTU Divisional Organiser, Greg Ennis, has called for the immediate recommencement of Covid-19 testing for workers in the meat processing industry.

He said: "We are extremely concerned that serial testing in meat plants has been halted by the HSE. SIPTU representatives were calling for mass testing of workers across the industry for months before it was finally commenced on August 21. It has now emerged that the HSE has withdrawn from the meat processing plants since September 8 without providing any advance notice of its decision to workers, their union or to public representatives in the Oireachtas.

"There have been 1500 cases and 31 clusters within meat plants to date with 4 clusters currently active. Outbreaks of Covid-19 are also linked to overcrowding and hot bedding in houses located close to several meat plants.

"Failure to reconvene weekly testing of meat plant workers could well result in another surge of cases across the industry and in their wider community. It is well established that the meat industry generates the perfect vectors for transmission of the virus.

"The testing and tracing system is patently inadequate and has never achieved the 15,000 tests per day as promised on March 19 by the then Government? Six months later, we are still awaiting an efficient testing system with the winter flu season approaching. Our members are justifiably fearful for their health, their families and their livelihoods in the essential meat and wider food production sector."

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