There has been an outbreak of Covid-19 in a town centre hotel in Cahersiveen to which more than 100 asylum seekers were transferred four weeks ago, business and community leaders have been informed.
It comes after they sought a meeting with hotel management on Saturday night to ascertain if local rumours of an outbreak were accurate.
The Cahersiveen Community and Business Alliance was told that four residents were diagnosed as positive last Tuesday and the four had been transferred to Cork.
Representatives from the town’s pharmacies and supermarkets met with management of the Skellig Star in a car park near the centre on Saturday night, its chairman Jack Fitzpatrick said.
As from today, management have agreed to confine residents to the hotel and grounds and local businesses are delivering produce and pharmaceutical products ordered online to the door of the hotel. The process was put in place last night.
After a further meeting this afternoon, retailers in Cahersvieen said they want to make clear that they will not refuse to serve residents should they come to their shops. However, for at least 24 hours until matters are clarified and all tests take place they would prefer the method of delivering to the hotel.
Rooms are being shared and there was little opportunity for social distancing at meal times, it has been noticed. The residents had been using local shops.
“Three weeks ago the HSE promised us they would contact us immediately if there was any change,” Mr Fitzpatrick said.
Last night after we approached management, the hotel confirmed four residents had tested positive and had been moved to Cork.
Management at the centre agreed to the offer that the residents, who had been visiting shops and pharmacies in the town, would now remain in the hotel and the supermarket owners would carry out deliveries, Mr Fitzpatrick said..
“At the very minimum supermarkets should have been informed to protect our front line staff. The contract was signed before we even heard about it and we made the best of it. All we asked in return was to be kept informed ,” he said.
The Department of Justice said this afternoon it has put in place a range of measures in their direct provision centres to address cases of Covid-19 if or when they arise. This includes the provision for self-isolation facilities and a number of offsite isolation centres around the State.
In all matters related to Covid-19, they are following public health advice from the HSE and the National Health Emergency Team, a Dept spokesman said.
The decision by the Department of Justice to transfer residents of Dublin hotels in Direct Provision and to open the former Skellig Star as a new accommodation centre for asylum seekers was part of its emergency response to Covid-19, the Department said at the time.
However, the lack of consultation and the loss of a key piece of tourism infrastructure for local events, as well as tourism and leisure, drew criticism. .
Independent councillor Johnny Healy-Rae accused the Department of taking advantage of the virus to move people to Cahersiveen without consultation.
In January, the Department had denied reports Cahersiveen was to have a centre.
None of the asylum seekers arriving in Cahersiveen this week have been in the country for "less than two months" the Department said in March as it moved to calm local fears after the first 105 of 150 asylum seekers had been moved from Dublin hotels to the Kerry town.
"If the concerns locally are that the people may have recently arrived from a region affected by Covid-19, I can confirm that no one in the group of 105 has been in this country for less than two months and all have been health screened by the HSE-led medical team at our reception centre in Baleseskin, North Dublin on their arrival," a spokesperson for the Department said.
Meanwhile, Mr Ftizpatrick said he has contacted the health inspectorate Hiqa asking for “an urgent inspection to be carried out” to see if the hotel was fit for purpose, out of concern for residents and locals.
The contract with the former Skellig Star Hotel in Cahersiveen is for a 12-month period. It is to provide accommodation for 150 single people across 56 bedrooms and was offered to the Department under the Expressions of Interest process.
The Skellig Star Hotel, formerly known as the Watermarque Hotel, underwent a €3m revamp in 2017 when it was purchased by a group of Irish and Chinese investors.
The Department last week said there were no plans to extend the numbers beyond 150. More than 90 people reside there currently.
There are around 12 staff, it is understood. The HSE and the Department has been asked for comment today.
The health authorities – HSE and Cork Kerry Community Health Care (CKCH) - said the Cahersiveen hotel was not a HSE or CKCH facility and they would not be making any comment.
As a general rule the health authorities only comment on cases or outbreaks of any illness (Covid-19 or otherwise) if there is a Public Health reason to do so.