Number of coronavirus cases at Banham Poultry has risen to 104
- Credit: Copyright: Archant 2020
The number of positive coronavirus cases linked to the outbreak at Banham Poultry has now risen to 104, it is understood, after more results were returned.
An emergency meeting was convened this morning, at the request of Mid Norfolk MP George Freeman, after he raised concerns over how rapidly track and trace was working.
Norfolk County Council confirmed yesterday that a further 16 people had tested positive for Covid-19, bringing the total number of cases linked to the factory to 96.But it is understood there have since been another eight positive test results, bringing the tally to 104 - and more will almost certainly follow over the course of the day.
While the increase has not been officially confirmed, Norfolk County Council is due to give an update at 3pm today.
Initially, the testing was focussed on workers in the factory’s cutting room, but was subsequently extended to other parts of the factory. So far, 477 members of staff, out of 800, have been tested.
The factory, which the council says has been deep cleaned remains open, with a skeleton staff of 45 workers brought in to staff the slaughterhouse and ensure the euthanasing of birds can continue.
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Staff and their households, including children, have been told to 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 their households, including children, need to isolate for 14 days.
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Mr Freeman said, following this morning’s meeting: “This morning’s meeting provided some reassurance on the urgency of local tack and trace now being taken, whilst also highlighting the problems and ongoing challenges which need sorting urgently.” He said about a third of the staff who have tested positive have yet to be traced, with those who have been traced concentrated in Great Yarmouth, Thetford, Attleborough and King’s Lynn.
He said local councils were now doing urgent work to trace the outstanding staff who have tested positive and their close contacts, which he said numbered about 150.
He said: “The tracing of workers in the food processing sector is complicated by locating often low paid overseas and agency staff, low cost accommodation and cultural barriers.”
Mr Freeman said the NHS Test and Trace system was too centralised and Norfolk was still not authorised to run its own track and trace system and said: “We all agree this requires urgency and pace to prevent wider contamination across the food sector.”
But Mr Freeman had criticised what he said was a lack of proper track and tracing following the outbreak, which prompted the meeting this morning.He said Dr Louise Smith, director of public health, was “first class”, but questioned why testing had initially been confined to the cutting room only.
He said more widespread tracing and testing needed to be carried out rapidly and felt the response over the past week had been “slow”.
Mr Freeman told BBC Radio Norfolk that too much time had been spent worrying about whether to close the Banham site, which he said was “probably inevitable” when the bigger issue was controlling the spread across the rest of the county.
He said if it was to close for a period, the owners needed to be properly compensated. He said there seemed to be too much debate between various tiers of government.
Mr Freeman said: “I don’t the system in the last week in Mid Norfolk has worked well enough. I don’t think it’s been fast enough. I’ve heard there’s been confusion about whether or not it would be centrally run or locally run.
“To me, it’s blindingly obvious, it’s got to be locally run. How on earth is a team in London going to find 1500 people in hostels across Norfolk? It should be locally run and I think it’s been slow, if I’m honest.”
At a press conference on Monday, Dr Smith had said: “Like Mr Freeman we have been concerned to ensure that the regional and national NHS test and trace have been as comprehensive and as rapid as possible.
“We have been seeking information about how effective the contact tracing has been.
“We have been assured it has been operating over the weekend and significant number of contacts have been processed through the tiers of the national services structure.”
She said there had been challenges due to the number of cases and language difficulties.
Since the outbreak, Dr Smith said the government and Department of Health has supported by providing access to data the team did not have and additional mobile testing units.
Dr Smith said: “My priority as director of public health is to ensure that the public health both of the staff at the site and working across the county is protected as much as possible.
“But clearly there are other issues to balance in that risk assessment, not least the best and most humane way to manage the livestock that has been weighed into the balance of the risk assessment as well.”
A number of people are believed to have reported to the James Paget University Hospital, in Gorleston, of which a “very small number” of people have attended for treatment.
She stressed that at this stage there was no need for a local lockdown in the area.
Dr Smith said: “Clearly the numbers of cases in this outbreak are rising and there are a number of different elements of response and work that we are working on including ensuring animal welfare, the support for the business as well as the public health imperative to interrupt and reduce the spread of coronavirus.
“It remains the case we do not have evidence of spread in the wider community. We are linking the cases back to this outbreak and we do not believe we do not need to move towards a wider lockdown at this stage.”
The county council pledged to help those who are self isolating by providing support to help households access food, medicine and financial support.
Anyone who needs help self-isolating can contact the Norfolk Assistance Scheme on 01603 22 3392.