Ministers Flanagan, Stanton, and their officials take the safety and wellbeing of all international protection applicants extremely seriously. An intensive operation is underway within the Department of Justice and Equality to manage aspects of the COVID-19 pandemic within our sector.
The Department of Justice and Equality is working closely with the HSE, and in particular their National Social Inclusion team, and is following all its advice in relation to COVID-19 and our Accommodation Centres. The International Protection Accommodation Service (IPAS) will continue to respond to all medical advices received, working with the HSE in a collaborative and proactive manner. In that regard, a dedicated team has also been established in IPAS to manage issues relating to COVID-19 in accommodation centres (including in emergency accommodation locations).
There are a number of measures underway to support contingency planning and preparedness in centres for COVID-19.
All accommodation centres including emergency centres have been asked to complete contingency plans for COVID-19. These plans are currently being actively reviewed by IPAS to promote shared learning and best practice across centres. The nine HSE Community Healthcare Organisations (CHO) regions are assessing all centres where people are living in congregated settings to establish their state of readiness and are offering appropriate advice to assist.
Public health information is being distributed to all centres on an ongoing basis, guided by public health advice. HSE information notices have been circulated to all centres and translations have also been provided.
Each centre has been asked to generate a self-isolation capability for use by persons suspected to have the virus. Any COVID-19 suspected or confirmed case, outbreak or contacts are managed by Public Health which also advises on follow up actions for example control measures including isolation. The HSE is currently considering the most effective prevention and cocoon measures for the most medically/ socially vulnerable residents in centres.
To support social distancing and to reduce contacts in the centres, no visitors are currently being allowed entry into Centres at this time. Centres without independent living arrangements (where applicants can cook for themselves and their families) have been asked to implement staggered meal times or to provide takeaway facilities where canteens have been temporarily closed.
In cooperation with the HSE, the Department will pilot an off-site self-isolation facility for Centre residents who are suspected of having the virus or who have the virus with mild symptoms. Intensive work is taking place to put this facility in place.
The Department is also putting in place a national clinical telephone service providing public health advice to IPAS, centre management and residents. In addition, it will provide an online GP service to any residents who have not yet been allocated a GP by the HSE or who have a GP but are unable to make contact with them. This online GP service will also make the arrangements for testing, where required. Every effort is being made to have this line in place this week.