140 confirmed coronavirus cases in ‘significant outbreak’ at Norfolk factory

Cranswick Country Foods, which has had an outbreak of coronavirus among workers in its Watton base.

Cranswick Country Foods, which has had an outbreak of coronavirus among workers in its Watton base. Pic: EDP - Credit: Archant

Testing at a Norfolk meat processing plant has revealed 140 positive cases of coronavirus.

Dr Louise Smith, director of public health for Norfolk. Picture: Norfolk County Council

Dr Louise Smith, director of public health for Norfolk. Picture: Norfolk County Council - Credit: Norfolk County Council

Dr Louise Smith, public health lead for Norfolk County Council, confirmed on Monday that 140 members of staff at Cranswick Country Foods, in Watton, have now tested positive, with 300 tests carried out.

The first positive cases at the factory were reported on October 15 at the Brandon Road meat processing plant.

Norfolk County Council will step up contact tracing and leafletting in the Watton area.

Dr Smith, Norfolk’s director of public health, said: “Testing of staff at Cranswick Foods has revealed a significant outbreak.

“At this stage we have identified about 140 positive cases out of around 300 tested so far. The analysis of swabs continues and the remaining staff on site are being tested today and tomorrow.


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“Due to the high proportion of positive case results received so far, we are liaising with the Joint Biosecurity Centre and have stepped up contact tracing and leafletting in the Watton area, urging people with symptoms to access testing.

“We will continue to keep you updated as and when we receive more information.”

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On Monday evening there seemed a usual flurry of activity at the factory, with workers seen coming and going. Lorries were leaving the factory and security staff standing at the entrance gates spoke to employees as they arrived.

A Cranswick Food spokesman said: “We can confirm a number of colleagues at our site in Watton have tested positive for COVID-19. They were tested in line with the advice given to us by PHE, are all asymptomatic and currently self-isolating. Testing of colleagues at the site is ongoing.

“We are continuing to work co-operatively with PHE, HSE, DEFRA and Norfolk County Council, but envisage there will be disruption to the full operation of the plant in the short term.”

Analysis

The outbreak at Cranswick Foods is the fourth to hit the region’s meat sector since August.

It follows major outbreaks at Banham Poultry in Attleborough and two at Bernard Matthews - one at its Great Witchingham site last week and one at Holton near Halesworth.

After the Banham Poultry outbreak, in which more than 120 staff tested positive in August and September, the meat industry held meetings with public health officials about what more they could do to stop the spread.

The industry is dominated by agency staff, who work in more than one factory, and can thus easily spread the virus between different places.

Mid Norfolk MP George Freeman said in August he was worried about “cross- contamination” in the region’s wider meat sector.

There were also reports at the time that staff had gone to work ill at Banham Poultry because sick pay was not enough to cover their bills.

The answer to the outbreaks so far has been mass testing.

Public Health officials tested all staff at Banham Poultry, with hundreds told to isolate, and last week it also began mass testing at Bernard Matthews.

At the company’s Great Witchingham, 75 workers had tested positive by last week.

Cranswick, however, is already on a bigger scale.

Earlier this month, there was a small number of cases at Cranswick with fewer than 10 staff testing positive, but this time 140 out of 300 tests had returned positive as of Monday evening.

Norfolk’s public health team is now well-rehearsed at dealing with outbreaks at meat factories, but containing this one quickly will be a serious challenge.

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