As the Deputy will be aware, the recommendations from the NPHET meetings are communicated to me via a letter from the Acting Chief Medical Officer (ACMO) and Chair of NPHET shortly after the conclusion of each meeting. I have outlined in a table below the recommendations that I have received from the NPHET in relation to meat processing plants and the food processing industry. The Deputy may wish to note that the letters from NPHET which include the recommendations are publicly available on my Department’s website at the following link –
As the Deputy will also be aware, there are actions on foot of NPHET recommendations that are appropriate for my Department, and others that are appropriate for other Departments and Agencies.
The National Standing Oversight Committee on Cases and Outbreaks of COVID-19 in High Risk settings - Food Processing and Construction sector was established in August 2020 to maintain an ongoing review of the impact of COVID-19 in high risk industries. The membership of this Committee includes relevant Government Departments and Agencies to ensure a cross Government approach is taken to such sectors.
The “Return to Work Safely Protocol - COVID-19 Specific National Protocol for Employers and Workers” was published on 9 May 2020 by the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation. It provides clear guidance to employers and to workers on the measures that must be taken to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace. Specific sectors may need to introduce additional safeguards, but this document sets out the standard set of measures to provide protection against the threat of COVID-19.
If the Deputy would like further details regarding the discussions at NPHET on the subject of meat processing plants and the food processing industry, and the recommendations and actions arising therefrom, the minutes of the NPHET meetings are publicly available on my Department’s website at the following link –
Recommendation communicated by NPHET to Minister for Health
The NPHET recommended a series of targeted actions and supports at known areas of infection risk, including vulnerable groups and high-risk workplace environments, to immediately contain current outbreaks and to put in place sustainable measures to mitigate the risk of further outbreaks.
Details of the recommended actions and supports can be found in the appendix to the letter of 4th August from the Acting Chief Medical Officer (ACMO) to Minister Donnelly, available at the following link - www.gov.ie/en/collection/ba4aa0-letters-from-the-cmo-to-the-minister-for-health/#august.
The NPHET emphasised the importance of proactive testing in high risk population groups and high risk workplace settings and noted that the serial programme of testing in nursing homes will recommence next week and that the HSE’s newly established National Oversight Group for the food processing industry is considering the most appropriate and proactive approach to surveillance and testing within than industry.
The NPHET reiterated its concerns in relation to the vulnerability of high-risk populations and high-risk workplaces and reiterated the urgency with which is recommendations of the 4th August should be implemented.
Public health teams should adopt a rapid, robust and comprehensive public health response to cases in high risk settings such as food processing and construction sectors in particular and should apply a very low threshold for mass testing of employees in such settings once an initial case is identified (subject to public health risk assessment).
In line with the recommendations of the National Outbreak Control Team (NOCT), the establishment by the HSE of a National Standing Oversight Committee on COVID-19 for food processing plants to maintain an ongoing review of the impact of COVID-19 on this industry, to be available to update guidelines and to oversee the establishment of a follow-up NOCT in the event of any resurgence of outbreaks.
The NPHET agreed the interim recommendations of the “Investigation into a Series of Outbreaks of COVID-19 in Meat Processing Plants in Ireland” and further recommended that the HSE’s newly established National Standing Oversight Committee for such facilities considers, as an immediate action, the development of the most appropriate and proactive approach to surveillance and testing within the food processing industry.