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Spread of COVID-19 a “huge learning curve” for Irish meat processors

21 May 2020

Senior Irish health officials express concerns over recent spike in coronavirus cases at Irish meat plants.

According to reporting in The Irish Times, 828 cases of COVID-19 have been reported at Irish meat packing plants. A spokesman for Meat Industry Ireland (MII) has said processing plants will continue to work with Ireland’s Health Service Executive (HSE) and local control teams to prevent the spread of the virus.

On 19 May, Dr Ronan Glynn, deputy chief medical officer, noted that the sharp rise in coronavirus cases linked to meat processing plants in the last week was “concerning”.

There are now 16 clusters – defined as two or more cases – across meat processing plants. The issue will be discussed at a meeting of the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) on 22 May.

“This is a huge learning curve,” Cormac Healy told RTÉ radio’s Morning Ireland on Wednesday.

“I fully understand concerns at the unfortunate number of clusters,” he said. Mr Healy said where clusters have occurred the HSE has been engaged in “several of those facilities” and full site screenings have been carried out.

Mr Healy pointed out that of the 56 meat plants in the country working under approval from the Department of Agriculture, a significant number had zero cases.

“The measures employed are working.”

On the issue of controls within the industry, Mr Healy said such controls had been put in place from the early days of the virus.

“Meat Industry Ireland introduced measures well before the government protocols. We put together our own based on knowledge of best practice.”

When asked about the challenge of meat industry workers living in shared accommodation and if plans were being made to provide alternatives where staff could self-isolate, Mr Healy said accommodation was shared across many industries.

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