- 05 Aug 20
The Eyre Powell Hotel in Newbridge is a new mini-epicentre of Covid-19 in Ireland. Despite instructions from the HSE, some workers feel that they have to attend work elsewhere, with consequences that might potentially be disastrous.
Over 30 residents have now tested positive in a Kildare-based Direct Provision Centre, Hot Press has learned.
Even that may not be the end of the story, however. A second round of blanket testing was carried out at Eyre Powell Hotel in Newbridge this morning (Wednesday), and remaining residents are now waiting to receive their results.
Since last week, approximately 50 people have been removed from the Newbridge centre to off-site self-isolation facilities in Co. Dublin. These include people who had tested negative for the virus.
The Department of Justice confirmed to Hot Press last week that several midland Direct Provision centres, including Eyre Powell Hotel, have been hit by fresh outbreaks of coronavirus, and that the affected centres are being "cleaned rigorously."
The new clusters of coronavirus in midland Direct Provision centres are believed to be responsible for much of the recent surge in the country's cases of the novel disease.
WAITING FOR THE BUS
Last week, Hot Press broke the news of the link between the outbreak in Eyre Powell Hotel and the contagion in the Irish Dog Food Plant, in the nearby town of Naas.
Two employees at the plant were residents of Eyre Powell Hotel. It is believed that the difficulties in maintaining social-distancing at the centre led to the workers transmitting the disease to other residents.
Irish meat plants have turned into mini-epicentres of coronavirus in this country. These factories frequently employ immigrants and asylum seekers to do what is relatively low-paid and physically demanding work – placing them at heightened risk of contracting the virus. Since the onset of the pandemic in mid-March, over 1,000 cases of the virus have been identified in Irish meat production plants.
One current resident of Eyre Powell Hotel told Hot Press that most asylum seekers at the centre are employed in aggregated work settings, and that they are often pressurised to attend work by employers.
“I saw this morning, when waiting to be tested, that that two people had gone to work,” one resident told Hot Press. “One of them works in Dublin. I saw them standing and waiting for the bus, and getting on the bus.”
In contrast, a young woman, who is a fruit picker at a Keelings farm, decided not to put other people at risk.
“My work sent me a message to come to work yesterday, but I refuse to go,” she said. "Since March, I left the hostel to stay in Dublin so that I can work. I am a young girl. I put my life at risk when everyone was afraid to go to work. I overworked myself. Now they don't believe me [when I tell them about the outbreak]."
In a letter sent to the Newbridge centre on July 31, Dr Fionnuala Cooney, a public health specialist with the HSE, had confirmed the outbreak of coronavirus at the centre and advised residents not to attend work until further notice.
The note is very explicit: “For people who have jobs and had been working: Do not attend work until you are told it is safe to do so. Inform your employer that you cannot attend work under Public Health recommendations.”
But not every employer takes statements of that kind at face value.
“It is really hard for vulnerable employees,” one union organiser observes. “You can’t blame those who do go to work. Seasonal work of this kind is precarious at the best of times, and so people are anxious not to lose the hours they are given. Clearly, therefore, they need more help than they are currently getting from the people in charge of Direct Provision centres, or from the HSE, if they are being instructed that they have to call to say they can’t go to work on Public Health recommendations. They should not be put in a position where the truth of what they are saying is being questioned.”
The extremely difficult conditions in direct provision centres have again been highlighted by this latest outbreak.
“The current situation in Eyre Powell could have been avoided if social-distancing guidelines were followed,” another resident said.