Thursday, 21 May 2020
Outbreaks of Covid-19 in Meat Processing Plants: Statements
Michael Creed (Cork North West, Fine Gael)
In reference to the point Deputy McConalogue made about the Minister for Health, I remind the House that the Minister was present earlier, made a detailed statement on the meat plants and was available for questioning in that context. As my colleague, the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation has confirmed, he identified 828 cases and 16 clusters in the meat industry. It is interesting that from the point of view of definitions, a cluster is identified as a place where there are two or more confirmed cases.
Deputy McConalogue made the point that many mistakes were made. It is true to say that this is a constantly evolving situation and that is evident if one looks at the various communications about which Deputy Ó Cuív inquired and which were sent to the management of the meat factories. The first communication was sent on 18 March and detailed the issue meat management plants were dealing with. A line in that communication stated: "There is currently little evidence that people who are without symptoms are infectious to others." Further communication sent on 9 May stated: "While people are most likely to pass on the infection when they have symptoms, current information suggests that some infected people spread the virus to others prior to developing or displaying symptoms themselves." The point I am making is that this has been a constantly evolving situation. All of the actors, including workers, my Department's staff and management in meat plants have been responding and reacting all the time to communications and to greater levels of knowledge that are developing in respect of these matters. I would not identify them as mistakes. Everybody involved was acting in the context of their best endeavours but information was constantly being improved upon. As the information available changed, so too did the responses. I have outlined some of the responses that were made.
The question of closing down plants for the purposes of deep cleaning has been raised. These are issues that will ultimately be decided upon by the outbreak control team.
It is interesting to recall the words of the Chief Medical Officer, Dr Holohan, on 15 May: "We don't think there's a justification at this moment in time to be issuing a recommendation that all meat processing plants should close." There is authority to do so, however, if closure, a deep clean or any other action is deemed necessary. My Department's staff, now working in conjunction with the Health and Safety Authority, will oversee compliance in this regard, but generally speaking we have found that there is willingness among management to co-operate.
Deputy Cahill raised a number of issues. The road map is the road map and I have nothing further to add on the opening up of any sector of society in that context. On live exports, I am as disappointed as anybody else but my function in the Department is to ensure the hard-won markets we get are kept open to us by virtue of our compliance with the health certificate we agree with the countries concerned.
With regard to figures for individual plants, the Deputy will appreciate that this detail is never divulged, as has been the protocol all along the line. I do not have access to it. Deputy McConalogue alluded to the fact that I had not given figures. I do not get the figures. They are not reported to the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. I got the figures from the announcement of the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, today because it is in his area that the figures are collated. They are not notified to my Department.