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HSE begins new testing regimes at meat plants

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A worker at the O’Brien Fine Foods factory in Timahoe, Co Kildare, last week which shut down after 80 workers tested positive for Covid- 19

A worker at the O’Brien Fine Foods factory in Timahoe, Co Kildare, last week which shut down after 80 workers tested positive for Covid- 19

Colin Keegan

A worker at the O’Brien Fine Foods factory in Timahoe, Co Kildare, last week which shut down after 80 workers tested positive for Covid- 19

Serial testing will start at meat factories this week as staff at shuttered plants prepare to return to work.

A HSE spokesperson said it has been drafting a plan that will mirror testing regimes at nursing homes.

The move comes after the Government promised to ramp up testing in high-risk facilities.

Ministers said a serial testing programme would be rolled out for meat plants and direct provision centres.

"A letter will shortly go to them to commence the process of data collection in advance of testing," said a HSE spokesperson.

"A schedule will then be built and testing starting during the week commencing 17 August.

"This is a large and complex logistical exercise, but similar to those we run for nursing homes."

Workers at Midlands meat factory O'Brien Fine Foods are waiting for further test results after it shut due to a Covid-19 outbreak earlier this month.

It is understood staff at Kildare Chilling are also waiting for results following an outbreak. A spokesperson was not available for comment.

"The outcome of additional testing is expected over the coming days," said a spokesperson at O'Brien Fine Foods.

She said the plant will gradually reopen from next Monday in line with public health guidance.

"O'Brien Fine Foods is adopting a slow, controlled, and phased approach to the resumption of normal operations from 24 August," she added.

Separately, there were no days lost due to industrial disputes between April and June this year compared to over 7,000 during the same period last year.

Crisis

New official figures show there were three disputes during the same period last year which resulted in 7,693 days lost.

In the first three months of this year, there were four disputes involving almost 22,000 workers and 19, 912 days were lost, according to the Central Statistics Office.

There was concern in government circles that industrial action could plunge the economy into crisis.

Trade unions rejected a HSE proposal to ban industrial action.

Health managers tabled the plan as part of a strategy to deal with the pandemic.

This is the first time since 2015 that no days were lost to industrial disputes in a three-month period.