Specialist advice needed over whether Banham Poultry coronavirus tests need to be extended

Banham Poultry has had a coronavirus outbreak. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Banham Poultry has had a coronavirus outbreak. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY - Credit: Copyright: Archant 2018

Specialist advice is being taken over whether the testing of workers at Banham Poultry meat factory needs to be extended further.

Louise Smith, director of public health in Norfolk. Picture: Ella Wilkinson

Louise Smith, director of public health in Norfolk. Picture: Ella Wilkinson - Credit: Archant

But Norfolk is some way off having to impose local lockdowns, the leader of Norfolk County Council has said, despite the coronavirus outbreak at the Attleborough meat factory.

There have now been 80 positive COVID-19 cases among workers, after 376 workers were tested for the virus. Five more positive test results came back yesterday.

It has led to a partial closure of the factory, with discussions between the owners and Norfolk public health experts leading to a decision to shut the factory’s cutting room.

Dr Louise Smith, director of public health for Norfolk, said that action was taken because they believed it was the most effective way to protect the wider public from further transmission.

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But, speaking to BBC Radio Norfolk, Dr Smith said the rate of positive tests - of about 22pc - was “quite high” and that specialist advice was being taken as to whether tests of other sections of the Banham Poultry workforce might now be necessary.

She said: “We were focused in our testing on staff who were working in the cutting room because the early cases that we had identified had worked in that room.

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“Our risk assessment was that the risk was highest in the cutting room and that the risk was lower for staff working in other rooms.

“But we’re taking specialist advice from health protection experts as to whether we should do more testing of the worksite.”

And she added: “We are kind of working our way out in a ripple effect. So not only do we need to look at whether there is more testing to be done from people working at Banham Poultry, but also testing of people in households and social contacts of those who had positive tests.”

She said some of those tested had not displayed symptoms, although one had been admitted to the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital.

Dr Smith said tracking and tracing was “incredibly complex” but there was evidence that it was working.

She said: “What we will be doing with this outbreak getting in touch with everyone asked to isolate at home. Emails are going today, have already gone in English and are being translated into a wide range of different languages, asking people who are isolating if they need help and support to get in touch with us.

“We will also do that putting the messages how they can access testing for other people in their household if they are concerned or feel that would be helpful.”

Dr Smith had previously said a more widespread local lockdown was unlikely, but they were still waiting for feedback from national government over the action which had been taken - but expected that today.

She said the government would consider the impact on the business and whether further control measures would be needed for everybody.

Dr Smith said: “We have had no indication at this stage that that is necessary, but obviously we are keeping a very close eye on this as it is moving fast.”

She said there were no plans for routine testing at other chicken processing factories in Norfolk, which she said was “not without complications”.

But she urged people working in such factories to think carefully about how they protect themselves, including wearing masks, socially distancing and getting tested if they had concerns.

Mr Proctor said he remained confident local lockdowns would be avoided: “Relatively speaking to what Norfolk has gone through, the number of cases - 80 cases confirmed - is high, but it’s not in lockdown territory at all.

“We all know this is a serious outbreak, but it’s an isolated incident as it currently stands, at the Banham Poultry factory with the workers there.

“If people test positive they need to isolate, equally people associated with them need to isolate as well.”

Mr Proctor said he was confident he could support the people who will be spending time in isolation. He said: “We’ve supported communities all the way through since March this year and there’s no doubt we will do so again.

“We’ve already lined up food parcels if we need to, assist with childcare and transport if appropriate as well.”

Meanwhile, Miles Hubbard, regional officer for the Unite union, said, having been involved with outbreaks at other food factories, that the union wanted Banham Poultry to shut down the entire factory.

He said: “These are the lessons we have learned from other outbreaks.”

MORE: Banham Poultry defends safety record as coronavirus cases rise

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