Priti Patel blames ‘mingling’ asylum seekers for Covid outbreak at UK barracks

Government has been accused of failing to providing Covid-secure accommodation

FOLKESTONE, ENGLAND - JANUARY 30: Asylum Seekers walk near police cars at Napier Barracks following a fire in one of the blocks that police have said was started deliberately, on January 30, 2021 in Folkestone, England. Napier Barracks, part of the disused Somerset House Sir John Moore Army Barracks, has been used since last summer to house Asylum Seekers arriving from France to the South Coast. It has been reported that 120 of the 400 people being housed there have caught Coronavirus and a visiting doctor had described the living conditions as "inhumane". (Photo by Chris J Ratcliffe/Getty Images)
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UK Home Secretary Priti Patel said “mingling” asylum seekers may have caused a coronavirus outbreak at an army barracks used to accommodate them last month.

The Home Office said on Wednesday that 197 cases had been linked to the Napier Barracks in south-east England since the start of the year – 178 cases in January and 19 in February.

Ms Patel said the outbreak was caused by guests breaching social distancing rules.

“People do mingle,” she told the House of Commons home affairs committee. “People were also not following the rules.”

But the opposition Labour Party accused the government of failing to provide Covid-secure accommodation.

Yvette Cooper, the committee chairwoman, said each dormitory was occupied by 20 asylum seekers.

“Oh my God, you had 178 cases at a centre which had dormitory accommodation of over 20 people? Well, that looks pretty clear evidence to me that those dormitories were not Covid-safe if you managed to generate 178 positive cases, presumably that would have affected staff who live in the local community as well," she said.

“On what planet did you think in the middle of a Covid crisis it was safe or sensible to put over 20 people in a dormitory so they're all sleeping together in the same room with the same air overnight each night?”

Matthew Rycroft, permanent secretary to the Home Office, said coronavirus guidance was “followed at every stage", including keeping a two-metre distance between beds.

Ms Cooper requested the “obviously insufficient” public health advice be made public.

The Home Office said no one housed at the Napier barracks was infected now.