A man’s death at the Manston asylum centre may have been caused by a diphtheria infection, the Home Office has said.
Initial tests at a hospital near the centre in Kent, which has struggled with overcrowding and outbreaks of disease, came back negative – but a follow-up PCR test was positive.
The result indicates that “diphtheria may be the cause of the illness”, a statement said.
The man died in hospital on 19 November after being believed to have entered the UK on a small boat seven days earlier.
A coroner has yet to confirm the cause of death.
A government spokesperson said: “Our thoughts remain with the family of the man who has died and all those affected by this loss.
“Initial test results processed by a local hospital for an infectious disease were negative, but a follow-up PCR test was positive, indicating that diphtheria may be the cause of the illness. The coroner will conclude in due course.
“We take the safety and welfare of those in our care extremely seriously and are taking all of the necessary steps following these results.
“We are offering diphtheria vaccinations to people at Manston, which has 24/7 health facilities and trained medical staff.”
Diphtheria is a highly contagious infection affecting the nose, throat and sometimes skin. The NHS says it is rare in the UK and can be treated through antibiotics and other medicines.
The Home Office initially said there was “no evidence” to suggest that the death was caused by an infectious disease, with the man being taken ill a day before dying.
Manston provides basic temporary accommodation to small boat arrivals while they undergo processing and can hold 1,000 people, with a maximum of 1,600, but was described in October as being “catastrophically overcrowded”.
The Home Office confirmed on Tuesday that Manston was empty.
New arrivals were expected to be taken to the site, which is designed for holding people for short periods during security and identity checks before they are moved to accommodation.
But some have been held for far longer periods because of a lack of alternative accommodation.
The home secretary, Suella Braverman, has been coming under criticism for the dire conditions in Manston, and for failing to slow the perilous crossings of the Channel by people in small boats.
This week she admitted the government had “failed to control our borders” but blamed people seeking asylum in small boats and their smugglers for the chaos.
“I tell you who’s at fault. It’s very clear who’s at fault. It’s the people who are breaking our rules, coming here illegally, exploiting vulnerable people and trying to reduce the generosity of the British people. That’s who’s at fault,” she told MPs.
She also said the Home Office has received five pre-action letters regarding Manston, which could lead to judicial reviews examining who was to blame for allowing a buildup of asylum seekers.