‘Anxious’ and ‘scared’: Town’s fears after Cranswick Foods coronavirus outbreak
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Businesses and shoppers have been left “scared” and fearing for their livelihoods following a coronavirus outbreak at Cranswick Foods.
Testing at the Watton meat processing factory revealed 140 positive cases of Covid-19 as 300 employees were tested.
Speaking on Monday, Dr Louise Smith, director of public health for Norfolk, said remaining staff on site would be test over the ensuing 24 hours, adding that contract tracing was being “stepped up”.
On a miserable Tuesday morning, Watton resembled a ghost town as shoppers largely stayed away from the high street.
The vast majority of those who ventured into town donned face coverings, wearing them outside as well as in stores.
And, having found themselves at the centre of the county’s largest single outbreak of the virus, businesses said an immediate impact was evident.
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Julie Ashman, from J&N Barbers, said: “We’ve seen already there are less people around and we’re not going to get the walk-ins now this is going on.
“Compared to before lockdown, we’re making about half as much money so we’re really worried. At the moment we’re just ticking over and paying the bills, which isn’t sustainable.
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“In a way we’d be better off being told to shut and getting support, rather than sitting here with nobody coming in.”
Co-owner Nicky Wood added: “There’s already a big difference out there today. In my opinion the factory needs to shut.”
Paul Adcock, owner of electrical shop, Adcocks, called on customers to show support for struggling independent businesses - despite the sudden outbreak on their doorstep.
“I just hope people don’t put an exclusion zone on Watton now,” said Mr Adcock. “We have to treat the virus with respect but, at the same time, life goes on.
“Hopefully those who are told to self-isolate do so to prevent any further problems in the town.”
Cranswick Foods’ dramatic rise in cases sees it become the third Norfolk meat factory to experience a major outbreak during the pandemic.
In August, the first of 130 employees at Banham Poultry in Attleborough registered a positive test for coronavirus, leading to the factory being shut down.
And throughout October, the presence of Covid-19 at Bernard Matthews’ Great Witchingham premises has steadily grown, reaching 75 positive tests on October 21.
Cranswick itself has meanwhile closed its pork processing plant in Ballymena, Northern Ireland, after 35 workers contracted the virus.
In Watton, while hundreds more workers were tested, a mobile testing unit run by the Department of Health and Social Care was set up in the town.
After residents with symptoms were urged to get tested, initially the unit did not turn up on time - but a spokesman for Norfolk County Council said those who missed out were being contacted to rearrange their appointments.
As she walked along the quiet high street on Tuesday, Carol Shipp admitted she had felt “nervous” about leaving her house to go grocery shopping.
The 75-year-old added: “I don’t really come out much at all but today I had to. I just feel very sorry for the people at the factory because the impact could ultimately be terrible.
“The past few months have been really worrying and frightening, but I’ve been lucky because my family have been helping me a lot.
“People now just need to do what they’re told and isolate, or we will never get rid of this virus.”
Fellow shopper Jean, who chose not to give her surname, said the situation had left her feeling “very worried” and “anxious”.
“It’s only natural because this has gone on for so long,” said Jean, who is in her 80s. “People have got to be so cautious, otherwise we are never going to get anywhere.
“I think smaller lockdown measures are helpful, but the balance has got to be right between businesses and people’s health.”
On the contrary to dozens of other businesses, trade at Watton Traditional Butchers has been booming as shoppers divert their attention away from supermarkets.
But owner Michael Brooks, 65, said he had noticed an instant decline on Tuesday.
“For nine or 10 years Tuesday has been the quietest day, but today is extraordinarily quiet,” he added.
“There’s nobody out on the streets. The majority of my customers are between 60 and 80 years old, and they are going to the first people with concerns on their mind.”
Kirsty Smith, manager at nearby Dutch Flower Parade, said the most important thing was for people to adhere to guidelines.
“It’s a bit worrying, but we are doing everything we can to protect ourselves and everybody who comes in, so hopefully we’ll be okay.
“If people don’t abide by the rules, we are going to have restrictions put in place that we don’t want.”
On Tuesday afternoon, Cranswick said it was awaiting guidance in relation to its site plan following a meeting of health officials.