Test all meat factory workers and learn from mistakes, Labour says

Cranswick Country Foods meat processing plant in Watton where there has been a Covid-19 outbreak. Pi

Cranswick Country Foods meat processing plant in Watton where there has been a Covid-19 outbreak. Picture: Sam Russell/PA Wire - Credit: PA

Labour has called for routine coronavirus testing of all meat factory workers and criticised the “unacceptable” delay to swab staff at Cranswick Country Foods.

Norfolk County Council Labour leader Steve Morphew. Picture: Denise Bradley

Norfolk County Council Labour leader Steve Morphew. Picture: Denise Bradley - Credit: Copyright: Archant 2012

In a letter to Norfolk MPs, Labour’s leader and deputy leader at County Hall, Steve Morphew and Emma Corlett, also said there should be a two-week lockdown at food processing plants when outbreaks begin.

Cranswick Country Foods in Watton, where 250 staff had tested positive as of Friday, is the fourth meat factory in the region to suffer an outbreak and the third nationally at a Cranswick site.

But Mr Morphew and Ms Corlett accused the industry of failing to take lessons on board.

As reported last week, there was a delay of around a week between local public health being alerted to the surge in cases in mid-October and mass testing.

“It is inexplicable and unacceptable that there was a delay of at least six days between an outbreak being identified and public health teams being allowed on site to conduct mass testing of staff,” they wrote.

Watton now has the highest infection rate in England and Mr Morphew and Ms Corlett said there was a risk of it spreading to care and hospital workers.


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The surge in cases at Cranswick started in the butchery section where many staff were asymptomatic. Mr Morphew and Ms Corlett said that showed a need for the industry to follow care homes and regularly test all staff.

It took until Friday October 30 for the factory and local public health to agree that asymptomatic staff should be isolating too.

Deputy Labour leader Emma Corlett. Photo: BRITTANY WOODMAN

Deputy Labour leader Emma Corlett. Photo: BRITTANY WOODMAN - Credit: Archant

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Only the government has the power to shutdown places like Cranswick, if there is an outbreak, but that decision was also delayed by several days.

Last Thursday, Mid Norfolk MP George Freeman said the factory would continue to operate with a “skeleton staff”, because of its importance to the economy and food production.

Around 20pc of all pork products in the country go through the Watton plant.

But Labour said it should be up to the local director of public health to decide if closure was needed.

A spokesman for Cranswick Country Foods said last week: “We are continuing to work cooperatively with PHE, HSE, Defra and Norfolk County Council.”

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