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Why were there so many clusters of Covid-19 in meat plants? TDs to hear experiences of staff today

The Oireachtas Committee on Covid-19 Response will also hear from Department of Health officials on the re-opening of schools today.

Image: Shutterstock/El Nariz

THE OIREACHTAS SPECIAL Committee on Covid-19 Response will today discuss two distinct topics – how to re-open schools and why there were so many clusters of Covid-19 in meat plants. 

Cases of Covid-19 traced back to transmission at meat plants have accounted for over 1,100 of the approximately 25,000 confirmed cases in Ireland to date. 

Those working in the meat industry were considered essential workers from the onset of the pandemic, and the fact that many of them are migrants and live in cramped living conditions was cited as a cause for the rapid spread of cases. Unions also claimed that working conditions led to the further spread of the virus in such settings. 

Public health workers intervened to try formulate a plan to contain the outbreaks in such settings, after clusters and cases rose rapidly through April and May. 

Late last month, acting chief medical officer Dr Ronan Glynn told reporters the measures that have been introduced at meat plants “appear to have worked in suppressing the outbreaks that have happened to date”.

“Clearly a lot will have been learned in terms of what’s worked and what didn’t work in response to those individual outbreaks and at a national level,” he said.

Dr Glynn confirmed at Monday’s press conference that no clusters in meat plants had been notified in the last week. 

Edel McGinley, the director of the Migrants Right Centre Ireland, will address TDs today as will Meat Industry Ireland’s senior director Cormac Healy. 

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Committee chair Michael McNamara TD said: “We welcome officials from the Department of Education to provide clarification and further detail on issues raised by representatives of parents and staff at previous sessions, including issues around, transport, funding and staffing.

“Separately, we know that a significant number of Covid-19 outbreaks and infections to date, were recorded in meat plants.  Members of the Committee want to explore the reasons such a high proportion of Covid-19 clusters occurred in meat plants and the improvements now in place to ensure a safe working environment for workers.

The Committee welcomes this opportunity to hear the experiences of staff working in this industry and from meat processors on the controls and measures put in place to curb the further spread of the virus in this sector.

Also this morning, a group of animal rights supporters from Peta will hold a demonstration outside Leinster House urging people to protect workers and animals by going vegan. It follows a billboard campaign from Peta outside the same building in May. 

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Sean Murray

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