WORKERS at a Kepak meat plant are rejecting claims that their lifestyles and living arrangements are to blame for the spread of Covid-19 at the factory.
It is understood that between 120 and 150 workers at the 650-employee plant at Watergrasshill have tested positive for the virus.
There are more than 600 cases in meat plants across the country.
Some workers who tested negative at the Watergrasshill plant have decided not to return to work this morning.
Family members of those who have tested positive are now also being tested.
The Polish partner of one worker, who spoke on condition of anonymity, rejected social media claims that all immigrant workers live together, unknowingly helping to spread the virus.
She said: “It’s true that some workers were going in one car to work.
“I would not agree that people live together, sharing houses.
“I have no idea how it looks with Brazilian workers but most of the Polish live with their families.
“It is true that years ago they sent money home but now most of the families live here together.
“Some of them are renting and some even bought houses in Ireland.”
A Brazilian worker said he also lives with his partner, who does not work in Kepak.
However, workers do acknowledge that some share accommodation and had been travelling to work together.
The Brazilian worker raised concerns about starting and finishing times at the plant, saying large numbers start work together, making social distancing difficult.
He said: “I do not feel safe to go back at the moment. I know many people who have tested positive. It is scary.
“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 also not conducive to social distancing.
The Polish woman confirmed that measures such as staggered break times, social distancing in the boning hall, and temperature testing was put in place but she claimed some measures were too late.
Other workers have praised how Kepak management has handled the issue.
One worker said: “Temperature testing has been carried out at the gate for the last couple of months.
“We were given letters and emails on what we should be doing. There was great hygiene and all breaks were on a phased basis.
“I am 100% happy with how the company has dealt with it.”
Agriculture Minister Michael Creed has said some meat factories could be temporarily shut down if a special taskforce recommends it. A National Outbreak Management team is due to meet tomorrow to examine the situation.
“The National Outbreak Team is led by the HSE but we have an involvement and whatever they will determine is necessary is what will happen, up to and including closure if that is what is deemed to be necessary,” Mr Creed said.
He said an array of measures have been put in place at plants.
“Blanket temperature testing, extended opening hours, reduced throughput, provision of PPE, provision of Perspex screens — these are the array of interventions that I’m aware have been deployed,” he said.
No comment was available from Kepak.