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Ireland has become the first European country to produce specific national Covid-19 guidance for meat processing plants (MMPs).
Published recently by the Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC), the guidance was developed by a HSE convened multi-agency group; the National Outbreak Control Team (NOCT).
There have been several Covid-19 outbreaks in meat factories in Ireland and internationally to date. But no Covid-19 deaths have yet occurred in cases associated with MMPs here.
Between March 2020 and 25 February there were 90 outbreaks in meat/poultry production and processing businesses. Some 2,730 confirmed Covid-19 cases have been linked to these outbreaks.
An outbreak of Covid-19 is when two or more cases of the disease are linked by time, place or person.
The guidance covers infection prevention and control measures to help prevent Covid-19 cases in plants, steps to be taken when an individual case is suspected or confirmed, additional steps to be taken as soon as an outbreak is detected, as well as factors external to the working environment.
There must be a high index of suspicion of an outbreak even if there is only one case in a plant, according to the guidance.
NOCT was replaced by the National Strategic Oversight Group (NSOG) in August 2020. The NSOG is a multi-agency group which provides national oversight to Covid outbreaks in MPPs, construction sector and other settings.
Meat factory workers who have difficulty self-isolating have been offered accommodation in the Covid-19 self-isolation facility in Dublin’s Citywest.
The guidance states that any “staff member who fails the screening questionnaire or temperature check on entry to the facility should be sent home and told to contact their GP or occupational health doctor for medical assessment before returning to work”.