Asylum seekers live in the former Hibernian Hotel at Pembroke Terrace, Abbeyleix
Covid-19 testing is finally starting at centres in Laois and other counties where asylum live in so-called direct provision centres but while free it will be voluntary to staff and residents.
The Department of Justice and Equality and the HSE confirm on Friday that, in line with the recommendations of the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET), a "comprehensive programme" of COVID-19 testing is starting across all accommodation centres housing asylum seekers and refugees in the State.
It said this covers residents and staff in accommodation centres (both permanent and temporary) and in Emergency Reception and Orientation Centres (EROCs). Testing will roll-out across centres from Saturday, September 12.
A number of such centres are located in Laois such as the former Montague Hotel in Emo, the former Hibernian Hotel in Abbeyleix and the former East End Hotel in Portarlington.
Part of the increase in cases in Laois in August was traced to outbreaks in direct provision centres. Residents representatives called for testing at the time.
A Department of Justice statement outlined how testing would work.
"Congregated settings, like accommodation centres, pose additional challenges during the pandemic to prevent and control the spread of the virus. That is why the Department of Justice and Equality and the HSE have worked closely together since the outset of the pandemic to put in place a range of measures for the safety and protection of all residents and staff, including opening additional temporary accommodation to facilitate physical and social distancing in centres.
"The comprehensive testing programme is an additional public health measure recommended by NPHET to safeguard residents and staff in Direct Provision Centres. It will help us to identify and isolate cases quickly and to assess the effectiveness of the public health measures put in place at Direct Provision Centres since March 2020. This will also help us to decide if extra supports are needed.
"Testing is voluntary and free. Neither a refusal to participate nor a positive result will affect a person’s status or application for international protection in any way. We strongly encourage all residents and staff to participate to keep themselves, their families and their communities safe from coronavirus. Each resident and staff member will be offered a test. Children aged under 5 years and people who have previously tested positive for COVID-19 will not be tested.
"Both the Department of Justice and Equality and the HSE are committed to protecting the identity and medical confidentiality of all residents and staff, as required by law. For that reason, neither organisation will confirm information about individuals or locations including the timetable for testing in individual centres. The health authorities will only comment on cases or outbreaks of any illness (Covid-19 or otherwise) if there is a Public Health reason to do so.
"Finally, we want to reassure residents, staff and the wider community that existing protections will also continue, including the agreed policy of transferring all positive cases and their close contacts offsite for self-isolation," concluded a statement.
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