Republic of Ireland news

Meat plant suspends operations amid efforts to suppress coronavirus spike in Co Offaly

 Carroll's Cuisine meat plant in Tullamore, Co Offaly, where nine people have tested positive for Covid-19.
David Young, PA

A Co Offaly meat factory that has been hit by a Covid-19 outbreak has suspended operations amid tightened coronavirus restrictions in the Midlands.

Three plants impacted by the virus in the three county area covered by the localised infection control steps have halted operations.

The spike in cases that prompted the restrictions in Offaly, Kildare and Laois have been linked to outbreaks in meat processing factories.

The intensified focus on the plants came as coverings became mandatory in shops across the Republic on Monday, with those breaching the laws potentially facing up to a 2,500 euro fine or six months in prison.

In a statement, Kieran Carolan, chief executive of Carroll Cuisine, said: “The health, safety and wellbeing of all our people and our wider communities is an absolute priority for us at all times.

“We have been working closely and co-operatively with the HSE and, while positive case levels among our staff are low, we believe that the best approach is to take this break in operations over the days ahead until we can evaluate the results of comprehensive tests which were undertaken for our staff on a precautionary basis yesterday in co-operation with the HSE.

“Through the independent testing that we also conducted and completed last week, a total of nine employees from our workforce of 330 (2.43%) to date have had positive tests for Covid-19 and are self-isolating.”

Minister of State Sean Fleming had urged the company to close voluntarily as he warned the state could intervene to order closure.

“I’m asking them to close it down voluntarily and not to have the state to do it over their heads,” said Mr Fleming, who is also a TD for Laois and Offaly.

He told RTE Radio One: “We work in Ireland on the basis of cooperation. Three of the others have voluntarily decided to stay closed. And we’re asking the fourth one to do the same as well.”

Earlier, Tanaiste Leo Varadkar highlighted that the HSE had the power to order the closure of businesses.

He said infection control officials were engaging with management at the plant to assess the situation.

“Three of the four meat plants have closed, one hasn’t,” he told RTE.

“There is an outbreak team involved with that meat plant and the power does exist under public health legislation for the HSE to order a business to close.

“I trust that public health officials who are involved in this are engaging with the plant, that they will make the right decision and, if it is necessary to impose a closure order, they can do that.

“But it’s the public health team on the ground, I think have to be allowed to make that decision with the company and I think we need to trust them.”

The three other plants that have experienced outbreaks – Kildare Chilling, O’Brien Fine Foods and Irish Dog Foods – have suspended operations.

On Sunday, 68 new cases of the virus were reported in Ireland by the Department of Health, bringing the total number of Irish infections to 26,712.

On Saturday, 174 cases were confirmed – the highest number since mid-May.

There was one further death linked to Covid-19 over the weekend, taking the death toll in Ireland since the outbreak began to 1,772.

The localised restrictions in Kildare, Laois and Offaly were announced on Friday and are in place for at least two weeks.

Residents are only allowed to travel outside their counties in limited circumstances while restaurants and pubs serving food have been closed.

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