There were almost 200 coronavirus cases at a barracks being used to house asylum seekers, the Home Office has admitted.
The Napier Barracks in Kent has been used to accommodate hundreds of asylum seekers since last September.
Public Health England (PHE) warned the government it was “not suitable”, the High Court said earlier this month.
Speaking to the Commons home affairs committee on Wednesday, Priti Patel said the outbreaks were a result of social distancing requirements not being followed.
“People do mingle,” she said. “People were also not following the rules.”
Matthew Rycroft, the Home Office permanent secretary, told MPs: “In total in January there were 178 positive tests and 19 in February. A total of 197 between the start of January and now.”
“Oh my god,” Labour MP Yvette Cooper, the Commons home affairs committee told him. “You had 178 cases at a centre which had dormitory accommodation of over 20 people in those dormitories.”
“Well that looks pretty clear evidence to me that those dormitories were not Covid-safe if you managed to generate within them 178 positive cases.
“Presumably that would have affected staff who live in the local community as well?
“On what planet did you think in the middle of a Covid crisis it was safe or sensible to put over 20 people in a dormitory, so they’re all sleeping together. in the same room with the same air overnight each night?”
Defending the policy, Rycroft said the Home Office was “following the guidance at every stage” from PHE, including having two metres between beds.
Cooper demanded the public health advice which was given be published as in this case it “obviously wasn’t sufficient”.
The Home Office said currently no one housed at the Napier centre is Covid positive.