Battle to contain Bernard Matthews Covid outbreak as 75 workers test positive
Health officials are battling to contain a Covid-19 outbreak at Bernard Matthews’ Norfolk headquarters, after 75 workers tested positive for the virus.
Hundreds of afternoon-shift workers at Great Witchingham have been sent home and ordered to isolate along with their immediate families for 14 days after mass testing of around 600 employees.
With the results of the final tests still to be processed, the final figure could rise.
The tests showed the majority of the positive cases so far worked on the afternoon shift, leading to Public Health advice to Bernard Matthews that the entire shift be instructed to self-isolate.
Diane Steiner, Norfolk’s deputy director of public health, said: “Following the testing carried out at the Great Witchingham site, we have identified a number of positive cases. As a response, Bernard Matthews have asked staff on their afternoon shift to self-isolate for 14 days, along with any other staff identified as contacts of positive cases.
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“Staff must self-isolate for 14 days, if they have not tested positive or not been tested. Staff must isolate for 10 days if they have had a positive test result, and the households of positive cases, including children, need to isolate for 14 days.
“We know this is a difficult situation for the company and its staff and we’re continuing to work closely with Bernard Matthews to curb the spread of the virus.”
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Broadland District Council’s deputy leader Trudy Mancini-Boyle said: “We are working closely with our county partners and the business to make sure that workers who live in our community can self-isolate. Our teams are contacting them to make sure they have what they need to stay in their houses and that their welfare needs are met.”
The afternoon shift workers were handed letters on Monday telling them to go home and self-isolate.
The letter stated: “The analysis has indicated that there is a higher number of positive cases amongst those working on the PM shift at Great Witchingham.
“Having discussed this with public health bodies, it has been agreed that, as a precaution, the best course of action is to require all those working on the Great Witchingham PM shift to self-isolate at home for 14 days to ensure that any risk of transmission to other colleagues is minimised.
“Therefore, when you go home tonight, you must isolate for 14 days. You must stay at home and not go out.”
The workers were told they would need to take a home test after seven days - to establish if any of those who had previously been tested and come back negative had since contracted the virus.
The company said, if those tests come back negative, then workers might be able to return before the full 14 days of self-isolation.
The letter continued: “In terms of pay, the options are statutory sick pay, taking holiday or we can bank your hours, which means we will pay you and then you work the hours at a later date.
“I appreciate that this will be frustrating for you, but it is essential that we do everything we can to ensure that we minimise the potential spread of the virus and your cooperation is greatly appreciated.”
But one worker, who wanted to remain anonymous, said he was frustrated at having to self-isolate when he had tested negative for coronavirus.
He said: “Constantly we are told there is no one with Covid and it’s all speculation. The letter says we all have to self-isolate for 14 days or until they change their mind.
“And if sick pay of £95 is not enough then to take it as holiday. I know this is a hard time for everyone but this seems really unreasonable.”
The situation at Great Witchingham comes after more than 70 workers at the company’s meat factory near Halesworth in Suffolk tested positive for Covid-19.