- 06 May 20
Those who suggested that the Direct Provision system would inevitably lead to a significant level of infection with coronavirus among migrants have been proven correct, with positive cases at the centre in Cahersiveen now being matched by confirmed cases in the direct provision centre in Moate, Co. Westmeath
Two asylum seekers who had tested positive for coronavirus at Skellig Star Hotel, a Direct Provision Centre in Cahersiveen, Co Kerry, were transferred yesterday to self-isolation facilities in Co Cork, Hot Press has learned.
As previously reported by Hot Press yesterday evening, a woman in her sixties fell ill with the novel coronavirus during the weekend. However, it was revealed last night that another resident had also contracted the virus. Both have now been moved.
Residents become aware of the accurate number of sick fellow migrants only when the newly-ill are being removed from the centre.
“Once we see the minivan, we know people have tested positive,” a resident told Hot Press, this week.
As extensively covered by Hot Press, a major outbreak of coronavirus in the Kerry-based centre has prompted controversy in recent weeks leading to a public demand from the asylum seekers that they should be moved to a safe space.
Over 20 residents had previously come down with the coronavirus at the Cahersiveen centre and were moved to offsite self-isolation facilities.
Hot Press understands that over ten more residents in the Skellig Star Hotel are currently displaying symptoms of coronavirus. They are self-isolating in their rooms. It appears, however, that it has not been possible to test all of them, as reports from inside the Direct Provision centre suggest that only ten test kits in all were provided for use.
The logical conclusion is that symptom-less residents are not currently being tested. Even if it follows existing HSE guidelines, this policy seems totally inadequate to the current circumstances in the Skellig Star Hotel.
The Cahersiveen direct provision centre is not the only one where Covid-19 has taken hold. Hot Press understands that a number of residents at Temple Direct Provision Centre in Moate, Co Westmeath, have also tested positive for coronavirus, further highlighting the perils of communal living in the presence of a highly infectious disease.
CHAINS WERE REMOVED
Responding to Hot Press’s inquiry regarding the number of new cases of coronavirus at Cahersiveen Direct Provision Centre, a spokesperson for the Department of Justice said that it was beyond their ambit of authority to comment on test results, but offered the reassurance that asylum seekers who are ill with Covid-19 have been removed from the centre.
“With regard to medical information such as test results and the release of data relating to same, these are matters for the HSE in a public health context,” he said, “We can confirm that, in line with our agreed policy with the HSE, anyone with a positive COVID-19 result has been transferred to an offsite self-isolation facility where they are cared for until such time as the HSE considers that they can safely return to their centre.”
The spokesperson continued that “these transfers are complex and are carefully planned and effected,” adding that the vehicle used for removing ill migrants is also “fully deep cleaned” and disinfected.
Replying to our second query, relating to the confinement of asylum seekers indoors, the spokesperson made the distinction that residents are under ‘self-quarantine’ and the door to the centre remains open at all times.
“Indeed nothing about life in a pandemic is easy for any person in Ireland,” the Department of Justice spokesperson said. “In total, there are currently fewer than 80 residents (which include family units) across 56 rooms in the accommodation centre in Cahersiveen. For clarity, please note that while residents have been asked by medical experts to self-quarantine, like everyone else, they are asked to adhere to the guidance, and the door to the centre remains open at all times.”
Clearly, this is true. However, it misses the point that asylum seekers living within the direct provision system are constantly assailed by the fear that any independent action they take might become a negative influence on the way in which their application for asylum will be treated.
By way of confirmation, Hot Press has reviewed a video, recorded by a migrant at the centre which indicates that residents are urged not to leave the building. A photo from inside the centre, also depicts a number of “do not leave” signs on the door.
Last week, residents told Hot Press that chains had been removed from the gates of the centre, following the issuing of a public statement by the Department of Justice, emphasising that asylum seekers were free to leave the compound. Yet, those who tried to walk past the gates were told that they should not leave.
PREVENTION NOT CURE
A resident has also informed Hot Press that a pregnant woman is currently pleading with staff at Skellig Star Hotel to be transferred – hopefully before contracting the virus. So far her health concerns have not been prioritised.
"Here you only get transferred when you're infected," the resident said. “Leaving her here is like waiting for her to get infected, then she will be eligible to get transferred. That's how cruel it seems."
To date, it has generally been indicated medically, by the WHO and other organisations, that there is no increased risk of being infected as a result of being pregnant. However, confidence in that assumption seems to be becoming more qualified.
“We are still learning about coronavirus (COVID-19),” the HSE website says, in an update dated May 5. “We don't fully know how it affects pregnant women and their babies.
“The information we have so far shows that pregnant women are not at-risk. This means that if you are healthy, you do not have a higher risk of serious illness if you catch coronavirus while pregnant.”
The note continues with advice to pregnant women on how to minimise the risk of catching the virus, including maintaining good hygiene, washing your hands, staying at home and practicing social distancing.
However, there is an acknowledgement on the HSE site of the fact that a fever or high temperature – which is a key symptom of Covid-19 – can increase the risk of complications during the first 13 weeks of pregnancy.
It also acknowledges that a pregnant woman may pick up some infections more easily as a result of changes in the immune system that occur during pregnancy. It recommends that all pregnant women should get the whooping cough vaccine and the flu vaccine.
It is also quite clear that the birth potentially becomes much more fraught, if a mother is Covid-19 positive.
“If you have coronavirus, your healthcare team will take extra precautions,” the HSE site states. “This will be before, during and after your baby's birth. Your obstetrician or midwife will talk to you about the safest way and time for your baby to be born.”
Advice is also offered on what happens after the birth, if the mother has tested positive for coronavirus.
“If you have coronavirus, your doctor or midwife will discuss your options for after your baby is born,” women are told.
“One option may be to arrange for someone else to care for your baby while you wait for coronavirus to pass. This is to protect your baby from catching the virus.
“A family member or healthcare worker can provide this care. This could be provided at home or in the hospital. How long this lasts for will vary. The advice will depend on your symptoms and the results of any tests you have had.”
REAL FEAR AMONG PEOPLE
In the context of all of the above, it seems to be of genuine importance to minimises the possibility of a woman who is pregnant becoming infected.
Our source in the Star Skellig Hotel said that the most important thing, as far as residents are concerned, is to avoid infection – thus, being moved to a large, safe facility which would facilitate independent-living, remains the core objective for all of the residents, including the woman who is pregnant and desperate to move from the centre.
All of the evidence is that the new coronavirus spreads at its fastest in enclosed environments. In Direct Provision centres, asylum seekers often share bathrooms and eating areas. According to a recent RTÉ report, nearly 1,700 people are still sharing bedrooms with non-family members within the system.
The issue about the treatment of migrants in the direct provision system is not an academic one. Earlier in April, a legal opinion, sought by the Irish Refugee Council, concluded that the State may have violated fundamental human rights that are enshrined in the UN’s Human Rights Charter, the Irish Constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights in its treatment of refugees within the direct provision system.
Commenting on the recent legal opinion, yesterday, the Green Party’s Spokesperson for Justice and TD for Dublin West, Roderic O’Gorman, also said that the State has failed to “meet its human rights obligations to asylum seekers.”
“Stories emerging from emergency accommodation and Direct Provision over the last few weeks demonstrate real fear among people living there,” O’Gorman said.