MII comments on confirmed Covid-19 cases and welcomes HSE Guidance note for meat processing

May 19, 2020

This evening the HSE, has announced that the cumulative number of Covid-19 positives in the meat processing sector over the last two months has reached 828 cases. Figures compiled by MII show that to date, 496 workers, who tested positive, have gone through the appropriate self-isolation, recovered and are back at work. 

It is disappointing that despite the range of measures put in place to mitigate the spread of Covid-19, the number of cases reported by the HSE has continued to rise. While the sector has faced challenges, MII data shows that almost 60% of affected workers have already recovered as per the HSE isolation protocols and others who were detected more recently continue to complete their self-isolation periods and recovery. 

From the beginning, MII members  acted promptly to address the threat posed by Covid-19. By mid-March all MII members had developed protocols and implemented a wide range of protective measures to mitigate the spread of Covid-19. This was completed well in advance of the Government’s introduction on 27th March of widespread emergency lockdown measures to protect the country from the threat of the virus.

Many sites operated by MII members remain unaffected and others have experienced very few positive cases. Where positive cases have increased and clusters evolved, companies have worked closely and openly with the HSE officials at local level and where deemed necessary by the HSE, conducted full screening tests.

All close contacts of positive Covid-19 cases must self-isolate until their quarantine period elapses. Return to work protocols for positive cases and close contacts are guided by HSE advice in all instances.

Members’ initial measures have been continuously updated and strengthened by new actions introduced in light of experiences of dealing with the challenges encountered in individual sites.  

Last Friday a Guidance Note on managing risks associated with Covid-19 infection in meat processing businesses was published by the HSE and was immediately distributed to MII members. Verification of the measures is being overseen by Department of Agriculture officials present in members’ facilities. The guidelines incorporate and complement the wide-ranging measures that MII members had already been implementing.

Commenting on the situation Cormac Healy, Senior Director of Meat Industry Ireland said:

“MII members do not underestimate the challenge Covid-19 poses and acted quickly and comprehensively to address the situation over two months ago. Whilst there have been a significant number of positive Covid-19 cases in some plants, it is important to recognise that many plants have had either no, or low numbers, of cases. Thankfully, a large number of affected people have now recovered, and more recently detected positives continue to complete their self-isolation periods and recovery. 

“This is cause for encouragement but not complacency and our aim is to take all the appropriate measures we can to minimise the chances of more cases developing. We welcome the HSE guidance note which will assist MII members as they continue to manage the ongoing situation.” 

As a business sector designated by government as an essential service, the industry remains focussed on containment of Covid-19 infection while also endeavouring to continue operations during this period. MII is reassured by recent comments of the Chief Medical Officer that there is no current justification for the closure of meat processing plants. Businesses will continue to be guided by the expert advice of the health authorities in this regard and will always act in accordance with such expert advice.

MII members will continue to work with the National Outbreak Control Team chaired by the HSE, whose role is to provide oversight and co-ordination in the prevention and management of Covid-19 outbreaks in meat plants.  

Full co-operation with directions from the HSE and Public Health authorities where positive cases do present