Chicken factory closes after 75 workers test positive for Covid

Chicken factory closes and 350 families are forced to go into isolation after 75 workers test positive for Covid in Norfolk

  • Banham Poultry in Attleborough will shut its cutting room tomorrow morning
  • First case of Covid among staff was reported last Friday, when one felt unwell
  • By Monday, seven out of 15 people tested were found to have coronavirus
  • Outbreak has sparked fears Norfolk will be plunged back into lockdown 

A huge chicken factory in Norfolk is closing and 350 families have been forced into self-isolation after 75 workers tested positive for coronavirus.

Banham Poultry in the village of Attleborough has voluntarily agreed to close its cutting room tomorrow following an outbreak of the disease. 

The first case of Covid was reported last Friday, when one worker said they felt unwell. By Monday, seven out of 15 tested were found to have the virus. 

Officials claim that any potential geographical spread of the virus from Banham Poultry, which employs 1,100 people, is low.

However, the outbreak has sparked fears that Norfolk will be plunged back into lockdown – with the county the subject of a central government review tomorrow. 

It comes as Britain today recorded 16 more coronavirus deaths as Scotland’s six-week run of no fatalities was ended with the announcement of two new victims. 

In other coronavirus developments in Britain today:

  • Two dozen of the UK’s biggest employers, from banks to retailers, revealed they have no plans to imminently bring all staff back to the office full-time;
  • Teachers have warned Boris Johnson his face masks U-turn risks creating chaos in schools amid fears pupils will bully each other over their choice of covering;
  • Gavin Williamson insisted he did not force the boss of exam regulator Ofqual to resign in the wake of Number 10’s A-level and GCSE results debacle;
  • Cambridge University has joined the global race to find a coronavirus vaccine and could begin clinical trials of its experimental technology within months. 

Banham Poultry in the village of Attleborough will shut its cutting room tomorrow morning as the factory voluntarily agrees to close following an outbreak of coronavirus

It comes as Britain today recorded 16 more coronavirus deaths as Scotland’s six-week run of no fatalities was ended with the announcement of two new victims

Dr Louise Smith, director of Public Health England in Norfolk, told the Eastern Daily Press that she was ruling out an immediate local lockdown.

She said: ‘At this point what we are doing is a very specific localised lockdown to a very specific setting, the who work there and their households.

Up to 30 Plymouth teenagers may have brought Covid-19 back with them from Greek holiday after 11 tested positive for virus 

Up to 30 teenagers in Plymouth could be infected with coronavirus after returning from a holiday in Greece, the city’s council confirmed.

Plymouth’s public health team is dealing with a coronavirus outbreak that could involve up to 30 young people who returned from the Greek island Zante last week.

At least 11 members of the group, all around the ages of 18 and 19, have tested positive for the virus since returning from Greece, Plymouth City Council confirmed.

Greece is not currently included on the list of countries subject to the UK’s quarantine restrictions.

 

‘We do not anticipate the need for a geographical or town-based lockdown at this stage and we would only move to that kind of measure if we were getting evidence of spread in the general public that could not be linked to a specific location, such as this outbreak.

‘We are not at that level at this stage and the background level of infection in Norfolk outside of this outbreak is low.’ 

However, the Government could decide in a review tomorrow to overrule local chiefs and shut the chicken factory completely. 

Norfolk County Council is understood to be considering whether they need to speak with other meat factories in the county.

In a statement yesterday, Banham Poultry’s managing director Blaine van Rensburg said the management team was working to prevent any further spread.

‘The safety of our staff, customers and the wider public is really important to us and we are working with public health authorities to make sure we are doing absolutely everything we can and following all of the correct procedures,’ he said. 

Norfolk County Council, which sent letters to 450,000 Norfolk homes just last week reminding people that coronavirus was ‘still with us’, urged people concerned about contracting the virus is to ‘remember the basics’. 

Steve Morphew, leader of the opposition Labour group at Norfolk County Council, said: ‘This outbreak shows the critical importance of making sure we learn the lessons and ensure there are enough resources to respond swiftly.

‘We know delays are costly in every sense so we must make sure our public health team can do the job we need from them. ‘

Attleborough mayor Philip Leslie said he had expected to see an increase in confirmed cases, but moved to reassure the town’s residents.

He said: ‘They have tested all 300 staff which I think has been exceptional – we are very grateful for public health England, their quick response and the way they have escalated resources to tackle it. However, it will raise eyebrows within the community to see such a large number of confirmed cases.  

The outbreak has sparked fears that Norfolk will be plunged back into lockdown – with the county the subject of a central government review tomorrow 

Dr Louise Smith, director of Public Health England in Norfolk, told the Eastern Daily Press that she was ruling out an immediate local lockdown in the county

‘So the main thing for us as a town council, is to keep on top of the situation and reassure that residents it seems to be isolated at Banham Poultry alone. 

‘We will remain vigilant and keep following government guidance. But we also need to have good practice within our homes as well. 

‘People are becoming a little lax and don’t follow rules in their own homes.

‘We need to work hard at recognising that this is still a real issue. 

‘We don’t have the vaccine in place yet or the long-term solution so we need to treat it as seriously we did a few months ago. We as a community are keeping our ears to the ground and ready to act on advice that comes.’

FORTY food processing plants are being monitored for Covid outbreaks by hygiene watchdog in England 

By Joe Middleton for MailOnline 

Forty food processing plants are currently being monitored for coronavirus outbreaks by the hygiene watchdog in England. 

Dr Colin Sullivan, chief operating officer at the Food Standard’s Agency (FSA), told a board meeting on August 26 they are monitoring a ‘small number of sites’, as reported by Food Manufacture. 

He added: ‘For example in England yesterday we were looking at approximately 40 processing plants in both meat and non-meat with active outbreaks.’

Dr Sullivan added there was some evidence that food processing plants could be more susceptible to outbreaks of the disease. 

Food factories have hosted an unusually high number of Covid-19 outbreaks around the world, with the most recent incident coming at a Greencore sandwich factory in Northampton where 300 workers have caught the virus.

Workers at a meat processing plant (stock image). Dr Sullivan added there was some evidence that food processing plants could be more susceptibly to outbreaks of the disease

Experts say the cold, sunless environments, cramped working conditions and staff who are more likely to use public transport may be ideal for the virus to spread.  

A report presented to the board by Chief Executive Emma Miles at the same meeting said: ‘We continue to monitor the relatively small number of outbreaks of COVID19 connected to food processing sites and are seeing only a handful in both meat and non-meat plants.

‘Overall these represent a very small proportion of the total food industry. It is not the FSA’s role to do health and safety monitoring of workplaces though where we have staff (i.e. in meat plants), we follow these issues particularly closely. 

‘Our assessment of the risk of transmission of COVID-19 through consumption or handling of food, or handling of packaging, remains very low. ‘  

The Food Standards Agency says it is ‘clear that it remains very unlikely that people can catch Covid-19 from food. Covid-19 is a respiratory illness and not known to be transmitted by exposure to food or food packaging’. 

As news has emerged of food factories around the world experiencing outbreaks of Covid-19, experts have suggested conditions inside the plants may be conducive to the spread of the virus. 

Greencore in Northampton said nearly 300 staff there have tested positive for Covid-19 and are self-isolating

Dr Simon Clarke, a cellular microbiologist at the University of Reading, told MailOnline that it was notable that food factories seemed to have been the centre of outbreaks more than other factories where people might be close together.

He said: ‘There are problems in this country, in Germany, in the United States. There is something common between them – it’s not happening in engineering or clothing factories where you also might expect people to be in close proximity to one another.

‘One assumes – but it’s just an idea – that the cold environment makes people more susceptible to the virus. 

‘Cold weather irritates the airways and the cells become more susceptible to viral infection.’ 

Dr Chris Smith, a virologist at the University of Cambridge, said on LBC ‘temperature is going to play a part’.

He explained: ‘When I’m breathing I’m blowing out droplets of moisture from my respiratory tract and the virus which is growing in there would be packaged up in the droplets. 

‘Now the droplets will hover for a period of time in the air and then sink to the ground… and if it’s very dry, cold air – and cold air carries less moisture, remember – the droplets will stay smaller and stay airborne for longer. 

‘If it’s very humid, moisture joins them, makes them bigger and heavier, and they fall and they drop out of circulation faster – so temperature could be a factor.’

Sunlight is also known to degrade viruses and make them less able to survive on surfaces that are exposed to UV light.

Rays of sunlight are thought to damage the genetic material inside the virus, making it less able to reproduce and killing it faster. 

Professor Calum Semple, a disease outbreak expert at the University of Liverpool, told The Telegraph that cold, sunless food factories are ideal conditions.

He said: ‘If I wanted to preserve a virus I would put it in a cold, dark environment or a cool environment that doesn’t have any ultraviolet light – essentially a fridge or a meat processing facility…

‘The perfect place to keep a virus alive for a long time is a cold place without sunlight.’ 

But the temperature alone does not appear to be a controlling factor in coronavirus outbreaks. 

Dr Michael Head, a global health researcher at the University of Southampton, said he thought close proximity was most likely to be behind the factory outbreaks.

He said: ‘Whilst refrigeration may be a contributory factor to the spread of the virus, the key factors are likely to be the number of people close together in indoor conditions. 

‘Some of these factories have onsite or nearby accommodation where there are several people in each dormitory, they may be transported on a bus to the site of work, and they will be indoors together all day.

‘Levels of adherence to measures such as washing hands is uncertain and there is unlikely to be widespread use of PPE.’   

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