A case of MRSA has been reported at the congested asylum processing centre at Manston in Kent, the Guardian has learned, after it emerged that Suella Braverman ignored advice that people were being kept at the centre unlawfully.
The antibiotic-resistant bacteria was identified in an asylum seeker who initially tested positive for diphtheria. But the asylum seeker was moved out of the site in Ramsgate to a hotel hundreds of miles away before the positive test result was received, raising concerns about the spread of the infection.
The Manston site is understood to now have at least eight confirmed cases of diphtheria, a highly contagious and potentially serious bacterial infection.
The immigration minister, Robert Jenrick, visited the Ramsgate site on Sunday, viewed facilities and thanked staff for their work, Home Office sources have confirmed.
Migrants are meant to be held at the short-term holding facility, which opened in January, for 24 hours while they undergo checks before being moved into immigration detention centres or asylum accommodation such as a hotel.
But giving evidence to a committee of MPs last week, David Neal, the independent chief inspector of borders and immigration, said he had spoken to a family from Afghanistan living in a marquee for 32 days, and two families from Iraq and Syria sleeping on mats with blankets for two weeks. Conditions at the site left him “speechless”, he said.
On a visit to the site on 24 October, Neal was told there were four confirmed cases of diphtheria. The Home Office has declined to comment on reports of MRSA or the current number of confirmed diphtheria cases.
Protective medical equipment for staff has now been brought on to the site. Although diphtheria is a notifiable disease, meaning cases must be reported to authorities, those at Manston have not appeared on weekly public health reports.
A Home Office spokesperson said it was “aware of a very small number of cases of diphtheria reported at Manston”, and that proper medical guidance and protocols were being followed.
Unions have warned that tensions are rising at the centre, where there were about 3,000 people a few days ago. It is understood a few hundred people were moved in the last few days, but witnesses reported seeing over a dozen busloads of apparent new arrivals being taken to the site on Sunday. It was later announced that 700 people have been bussed to Manston from a nearby immigration centre after a man had thrown petrol bombs at the site.
Separately, a source has told the Guardian that Braverman was warned weeks ago that large number of people were being detained unlawfully at Manston, but she declined to provide more hotel spaces or allow immigration bail, and blocked officials from taking action.
Under the rules governing the Kent centre, officials there should only take migrants’ biometric details before they are moved into proper accommodation.
The apparently deteriorating conditions at Manston, and Braverman’s seeming role in this, adds yet more pressure on to the home secretary, who was sacked from the same role by Liz Truss for using a personal email to pass on a sensitive government document.
After Truss resigned, Rishi Sunak brought Braverman back into the job just a week later, but Labour and other opposition parties are pushing to uncover more details about the data breach.
A Home Office spokesperson said: “The home secretary has taken urgent decisions to alleviate issues at Manston and source alternative accommodation. Claims advice was deliberately ignored are completely baseless. It is right we look at all available options so decisions can be made based on the latest operational and legal advice.”
• This article was amended on 31 October 2022. Diphtheria is a highly contagious bacterial infection, not a viral infection, as an earlier version said.