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HSE confirms 1,600 people tested in Direct Provision for Covid-19 amid calls for clearer strategy

164 cases of Covid-19 have been confirmed in Direct Provision centres.

Image: Shutterstock/Myriam B

AN ESTIMATED 1,600 people living in Direct Provision have been tested for Covid-19, the HSE has confirmed, amid calls for a clear testing strategy for asylum seekers. 

Testing has been carried out a number of centres in recent weeks by the National Ambulance Service and HSE staff, primarily in locations with a high population of people living in them. 

Minister for Health Simon Harris yesterday confirmed 164 cases of Covid-19 in Direct Provision centres, including nine clusters. Ten people have been hospitalised. 

Earlier this week, asylum seekers at a Direct Provision centre in Caherciveen, Co Kerry demanded to be moved out after an outbreak of Covid-19. 

There have been over 20 confirmed cases at the former Skellig Star Hotel, which was opened by the Department of Justice & Equality on 18 March as part of its response to Covid-19.

The Irish Refugee Council has warned that the risk of contracting coronavirus remains considerable for those living in congregated settings like Direct Provision centres.  

According to the Department, 1,700 people living in Direct Provision continue to share a bedroom with non-family members.

CEO of Irish Refugee Council Nick Henderson said that in the absence of people being moved out of Direct Provision “there needs to be a clear, published, testing strategy done in conjunction with a public information campaign.

“Testing will also need to be done on an ongoing basis,” he said. 

“While the rest of Irish society starts to lift restrictions and re-open the economy, people in Direct Provision will continue to live in congregated settings making them more exposed to the disease for the foreseeable future,” he said. 

“The risk of contracting the disease would be reduced considerably if people were moved out of Direct Provision in to appropriate accommodation. 

“Approximately 1,700 people are still sharing bedrooms. More will be sharing washing, food and laundry space,” said Henderson. 

The decision to test for Covid-19 in Direct Provision centres is made by public health officials on the basis of people at a particular accommodation centre reporting symptoms.

More widespread testing – of people who are not presenting with symptoms-  has also been carried out at a small number of centres where larger numbers of people live. 

There are currently 7,700 people living in 85 Direct Provision centres.

People living in the system are not considered to be at the same risk level as people living in long-term residential care facilities, like nursing homes. But due to congregated settings in which many asylum seekers live, a decision was made to carry out testing at a number of centres. 

As of last Saturday, 188,837 Covid-19 tests had been carried out by the HSE  nationwide with aim to reach 100,00 tests per week by mid-May. 

The Refugee Council has written to HSE Chief Clinical Officer Dr Colm Henry – who sits on the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) – with its recommendations for testing. 

Last night, Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan said NPHET will consider today whether to test everyone living in Direct Provision. 

A spokesperson for the Department of Justice said that any person with a positive result is transferred to an offsite self-isolation facility. 

“Some of our residents may be accommodated in the HSE national self-isolation facility in City West,” they said. 

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