Legionella found on Bibby Stockholm refugee barge

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Peninsula Group, HR and Health & Safety Experts

(Last updated )

The Home Office has come under pressure to abandon plans to house asylum seekers on the barge Bibby Stockholm, after legionella bacteria was discovered in its water system last week.

Contractors tested the barge’s water system on 25 July and again on 7 August, when low level traces of the potentially deadly bacteria were detected. This was the same day that asylum seekers first boarded the vessel in Portland, Dorset.

Sources say that the Home Office first learned about these traces on Wednesday 9 August, resulting in further tests.

The Home Office still sent another six people on to the barge on Thursday, but after taking advice from the UK Health Security Agency, these people were taken off the same evening, and everyone else was removed on 11 August.

People can get lung infections from legionella, such as legionnaires’ disease or Pontiac fever, by breathing in small droplets of water in the air that contain the bacteria. So far, none of the people on the Bibby Stockholm have tested positive for the disease. However, symptoms can take up to 16 days to emerge.

Following reports that it took three days for ministers to be informed about the legionella outbreak, Portland’s mayor, Carralyn Parkes, said the Home Office must take responsibility:

“The buck stops with the Home Office and Suella Braverman,” she said. “The department may not have had sight of the appropriate test results but it was up to the department to make sure that they were informed and removed asylum seekers off the barge as soon as they discovered there was a dangerous bacteria onboard.”

Portland council insists that it told a Home Office official about the outbreak in a meeting on 8 August – a claim the government has yet to confirm or deny.

However, the government has said that Home Office ministers were not told about the outbreak until the night of 10 August, and all asylum seekers on board were removed the following day.

Paul Kimber, chair of Weymouth Port Health Authority for 10 years until 2019, said: “It is not unusual to have a water fail on a vessel, but it is unusual to ignore the test. The people on board – both the refugees and the workers onboard – should have been alerted straight away.”

It is unclear when asylum seekers will return to the barge. No 10 has refused to give a timeline while officials await results of further tests.

If you need more information on legionella, visit BrAInbox today where you can find answers to questions like Can you get Legionnaires disease from other people with the infection?

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