There are now 15 clusters of COVID-19 confirmed in meat plants around the country, according to the latest figures from the Health Service Executive (HSE).
During a weekly briefing, HSE chief operations officer Anne O’Connor said there was a regional outbreak control team in place for each of the clusters. On Friday, the national control team issued guidance to all 56 Department-approved meat plants on the prevention and control of COVID-19.
O’Connor said the HSE had also been carrying out mass swabbing in some plants due to the number of coronavirus cases.
Minister for Agriculture Michael Creed said every cluster was “one too many”. Speaking on RTE Radio 1, the minister said the national outbreak team were “co-ordinating, collating, and considering” what appropriate actions should be taken.
He stressed that less than one in four plants had an issue. If it was deemed necessary to close one or all of them due to a COVID-19 outbreak then it would happen, he said.
However, on Friday, chief medical officer Tony Holohan said such a recommendation was not currently being considered.
“Everything else is under the microscope in terms of the transmission of this at work, at lunch breaks, as was alluded to travel to work, shared accommodation, social interaction,” Minister Creed said.
“All of those issues are being considered by this national outbreak team who have all of the necessary expertise within their grouping - public health, environmental health, occupational health, all of that expertise is available.”
The minister agreed that meat plant workers should not return to work after undergoing a test until all the necessary protocols were observed. He said there had been rumours of workers returning to work before receiving test results but he had no documented evidence of it occurring.
When asked if there were any Department of Agriculture staff who refused to continue working in meat plants, Minister Creed said there were none that he was aware of.
The minister stressed that Department staff were in meat plants primarily from a food safety point of view but that he was satisfied with reports coming back from them on the actions taken by plants.