Meat industry sources have confirmed that Covid-19 testing at meat plants has been postponed by the Health Service Executive.

Sinn Féin has described the move as "reckless".

The HSE confirmed the move in an email to the party today.

In the correspondence, the Director of Public Health Mid-West Dr Mai Mannix said that the decision to postpone testing at food processing facilities was made, "because of the increased capacity needed at the moment to deal with people with symptoms".

She told the party that the decision was taken at a "national level".

Cavan/Monaghan Sinn Féin TD Matt Carthy said immediate answers from Government were needed and the decision to cease testing at food processing plants was, "reckless, inexplicable, and poses a danger in the extreme to our communities".

In a statement, the HSE said that Covid-19 testing of staff at meat and food processing facilities is being "re-scheduled into next week".

This was a "precautionary measure" to allow the health service focus its resources on meeting the "significant rise in demand for testing among people with coronavirus symptoms in the community".

Testing demand "nearly trebled on Monday" with a requirement for over 13,000 community tests and over 3,000 hospital tests.

The statement continued: "We are liaising directly with the facilities scheduled for testing and will be re-scheduling planned testing next week.

"It is important to remember that where an outbreak occurs, then normal mass testing will still occur in meat plants.

"Public Health will be in touch locally in those situations. In the meantime, if a staff member develops symptoms of coronavirus, we would ask them to self-isolate and phone a GP to be referred for a free coronavirus test."

Serial testing in meat plants, which commenced on 21 August, has yielded 40 positive cases so far and a positivity rate of 0.28%

There are currently four clusters at meat plants across the country.

More than 1,500 cases of the virus were confirmed at meat processing plants, primary and secondary.

Every food processing facility in Laois, Kildare and Offaly have been tested a total of three times under the serial testing programme.