More than 120 workers test positive for Covid-19 at Cork meat plant

More than 120 workers test positive for Covid-19 at Cork meat plant
Pic; Larry Cummins

A WORKER at a meat processing plant in Watergrasshill says he is too frightened to return to work despite testing negative for Covid-19.

More than 120 workers at the Kepak plant are understood to have tested positive for the virus after a blanket testing of staff at the factory early last week.

Marcus*, who spoke to The Echo on the basis that he would remain anonymous, has been working at the plant for several years. 

He was told on Thursday that he had tested negative and that he could return to work, where he earns €10.50 per hour.

However, he is not planning to return for immediately in a bid to ensure he will not contract the infection.

The plant has not closed despite the outbreak.

A number of workers at the plant told The Echo they were 'happy' with how management had handled the situation, saying there were good hygiene protocols and phased breaks.

However, Marcus said: "I do not feel safe to go back at the moment. 

"I know many people who have tested positive. It is scary."

He explained that up to 100 people all start work on a typical shift, at the same time, making social distancing difficult at the start and end of a shift.

He outlined: "In the changing rooms, there could be up to 50 people together at a time and there is a queue in the morning to get into work as well."

He added that bathroom facilities are not conducive to social distancing.

He commended management for implementing measures including perspex divisions, staggered break times and temperature testing at the entrance to the plant.

Management has worked to ensure that staff are working at a safe distance from each other in the boning hall and other parts of the plant.

However, Marcus said the difficulty in maintaining social distancing restrictions at the start and end of a shift is too daunting.

He is now shopping for friends who have tested positive and leaves the groceries on their doorstep.

Some are asymptomatic while others have varying degrees of symptoms, including high temperatures, aching bones, and coughs.

The Minister for Agriculture, Michael Creed, will be questioned in the Dáil next Thursday about the situation in the meat plants. Independent TD Denis Naughten has been raising concerns about the industry since the first cases started to emerge in recent weeks in meat plants in Westmeath, Tipperary and Offaly.

Sinn Féin's Deputy Thomas Gould has called on the government to "urgently ensure that the Health and Safety Authority is given the tools it needs to monitor workplaces effectively as we begin reopening our economy."

He said: "The HSA has been given a critical role in ensuring that workplaces are safe, employees are protected and that the reopening of our economy moves forward. The tools that HSA requires to do the job are additional power and funding. The agency must be given everything it needs so that it can police and enforce the back to work health guidelines effectively."

A spokesman for Kepak said the company will not be commenting on the issue.

*Marcus is not his real name.

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