About 100 asylum seekers being housed at a former army barracks are to be transferred to hotels to self-isolate following a significant Covid-19 outbreak at the repurposed site.
There were about 400 men held at Napier barracks near Folkestone, Kent, and roughly a quarter of the population, who had tested negative for the coronavirus, would spend 10 days in hotels inside and outside the district, Folkestone and Hythe district council (FHDC) said.
The move comes after a surge in positive Covid-19 tests were returned to at least 120 men in the camp. The Home Office refused to confirm total numbers of positive tests but data on the government’s official coronavirus dashboard shows a 124% rise in cases in the ward in which the barracks is located, Folkestone Morehall and Sandgate, in the week to 20 January, with 182 cases recorded.
The outbreak followed repeated warnings from humanitarian organisations and healthcare professionals over significant risks posed by Covid-19 at the site, which has been dogged by allegations of overcrowding and poor conditions.
A statement from the council said: “The Home Office is responsible for Napier barracks and in line with advice from Public Health England, the Home Office is temporarily moving a number of asylum seekers out from the Napier accommodation facility into self-isolation facilities, in order to allow others at Napier to self-isolate more easily.
“FHDC welcomes this decision as it means greater social distancing is possible in the barracks – reducing the potential spread of Covid.
“Approximately 100 users will be transferred over the coming days – some to hotels outside of the district and a small number to one hotel in our district. The users who are being transferred have had a negative PCR test. Following the transfer they will self-isolate in a hotel for 10 days. There is no additional risk to local residents.”
The move comes after the immigration minister Chris Philp said in a written parliamentary answer that the government hoped to start moving asylum seekers out of another former Ministry of Defence site, Penally barracks, in Pembrokeshire, albeit in small numbers.
David Bolt, the independent chief inspector of borders and immigration, who is due to step down soon, has started an inspection of the use of hotels and barracks as contingency asylum accommodation, including the use of Penally and Napier.
The inspectorate has launched a call for evidence and urged anyone with relevant knowledge or experience to contribute. The inspection will look at the process for identifying the sites, including with regard to Covid-19 safety.
Philp said: “We are required by law to provide asylum seekers with suitable accommodation and during the pandemic we have had to secure additional sites. We have been clear that this is a temporary measure to ease pressure on the system during these unprecedented times, with the use of MoD sites helping to reduce our reliance on hotels and provide savings for the taxpayer.”