The Health Service Executive (HSE) has suspended testing for Covid-19 at food and meat processing plants due to capacity issues and increased demand for testing.
Meat processing plants have been among the most vulnerable settings in terms of the spread of the coronavirus in the State. There are currently four clusters at meat plants across the country, while more than 1,500 cases of the virus have been confirmed in such facilities.
The increased surveillance of meat plants was announced last month in response to a surge in Covid-19 infections at four meat factories that contributed to the lockdowns of Kildare, Laois and Offaly.
In a statement to Sinn Féin, HSE director of public health mid-west Dr Mai Mannix said a decision had been taken nationally to “postpone” testing for the virus at food processing plants.
This was “because of the increased capacity needed at the moment to deal with people with symptoms”.
“The decision to recommence Covid testing at food processing plants will also be taken at national level,” she said.
“All necessary actions are taken by the HSE when informed of positive cases in a workplace – cases and close contacts are excluded from the workplace and given appropriate advice and testing.”
In a statement to The Irish Times on Wednesday, a spokeswoman for the HSE said testing would resume at plants next week.
“Covid-19 testing of staff at meat and food processing facilities is being re-scheduled into next week,” she said.
“This is a precautionary measure to allow us focus our resources on meeting the significant rise in demand for testing among people with coronavirus symptoms in the community.
“Testing demand nearly trebled on Monday with a requirement for over 13,000 community tests and over 3000 hospital tests.
“We are liaising directly with the facilities scheduled for testing and will be re-scheduling planned testing next week. It is important to remember that where an outbreak occurs in a plant then normal mass testing will still occur in meat plants.
“Public Health will be in touch locally in those situations. In the meantime, if a staff member develops symptoms of coronavirus, we would ask them to self-isolate and phone a GP to be referred for a free coronavirus test.”
She added that serial testing at meat plants, which began on August 21st, has yielded 40 positive cases so far and a positivity rate of 0.28 per cent.