Contact tracing only completed in half of Banham Poultry coronavirus cases

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

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

Contact tracing has only been completed in half the cases of Banham Poultry workers who tested positive for coronavirus, the county’s public health director revealed on Tuesday.

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

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

And a company is being brought in to redo the NHS Test and Trace work, with the county council keen to be permitted to tackle the problem locally, rather than relying on the national system.

Norfolk County Council’s director of public health, Dr Louise Smith confirmed that the latest total of positive tests at the Attleborough factory has now risen to 104, out of 769 results returned.

She said that contact tracing had been completed in 52pc of cases where people had tested positive.

“We are working to get the data from the Department for Health and the NHS Test and Trace service,” she said.

“The remainder were either still in progress or uncontactable. To address this, because that’s a relatively high proportion that have been uncontactable, we are bring in a company to redo that contact tracing and have another go at reaching out to people.”

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Dr Smith said mobile testing units are already in place in Great Yarmouth, Norwich and Attleborough and another will be stationed in Thetford on Wednesday.

But she said the county council would be keen to take on responsibility for track and tracing.

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Dr Smith said: “We have had good information back from the national track and trace system, but it’s important to understand that we are not in charge of and running that system, at the moment.

“We are very willing to become what’s been nationally announced as taking over the contact tracing and become a locally enhanced contract tracing local authority.

“When you are working with a very sudden spike in the number of cases and with a group or community for whom English is not their first language, and who may not share the same trust or confidence in the confidentiality of a system, I think it is inevitable that the effectiveness or success rate will be low.

“Whilst we would very much like to see higher engagement with the testing NHS has undertaken, we do understand it’s very hard getting through the door in a community like this.”

She said contact tracing was “an art, not a science” and depended on human factors, such as people being willing to answer their phone and to engage.

She said: “We have always anticipated that there would be elements of contact tracing in certain communities where contact tracing is particularly challenging.”

Asked whether agency workers were being restricted from working in other food factories, Dr Smith said there had been dialogue with the industry and with agencies.

She said: “We’ve got the word out with the industry and the agencies. There’s still other agencies we need to contact, We are very much asking them to be cautious and alert.”

All staff at the plant, plus their households, are being asked to self-isolate for 14 days if they have not tested positive and for 10 days if they have tested positive – households of those who have tested positive need to isolate for 14 days.

Staff who are self-isolating are being offered support, if they need it, from the Norfolk Assistance Scheme – including food and medical supplies and hardship fund payments. The number is 01603 223392.

Mid Norfolk MP George Freeman had raised concerns over what he said was a “slow” response to the outbreak, although Dr Smith stood by the actions which had been taken.

She said she was keen to get staff through isolation and back to the factory so it could resume production.

Dr Smith said: “Colleagues from the Health and Safety Executive and Breckland District Council environmental health had visited the factory to offer advice and support to Banham Poultry, to plan for the resumption of all processes in a Covid-secure way.”

She added: “We are increasingly confident that this is a single outbreak of a virus that we are dealing with.

“We have good, strong evidence that working our way out from the people most clearly linked to the centre - to the staff in the cutting room to the rest of the staff - that we are seeing the numbers come down.

“We do not have evidence of this spilling out into the rest of the community and we are becoming increasingly confident of our evidence on that. “I’ve received further analyses today that confirm that the background rate and pattern in Norfolk remains at the low levels that they were at.

“Those are all reasons to give us confidence that we have a got a ring of understanding around this outbreak.

“But it will take some more days yet to be confident we are not seeing that next ring of transmission out into the households of people who are linked with Banham Poultry and that’s why one of our key messages is that continue to have mobile testing units at key sites.”

County council leader Councillor Andrew Proctor said: “Everyone is playing their part in managing this outbreak and reducing the risk of spread into the community and other businesses.

“I met today with MPs and government officials, setting out what has been done and what is being done to contain this outbreak.

“In terms of the wider partnership effort, Banham Poultry and its shareholders met with representatives from the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy and other Government departments, together with New Anglia LEP, George Freeman MP and Sam Chapman-Allen, leader of Breckland Council, to understand the economic impact on Banham Poultry and the wider economy.

“Banham Poultry has made a request for financial support which will be considered by officials and ministers.

“We have briefed the food industry about the situation and the additional precautions they should take to ensure the continued wellbeing of their staff. We are also briefing recruitment agencies.”

Brandon Lewis, MP for Great Yarmouth, where a number of the Banham Poultry workers are understood to live and where the James Paget University Hospital is treating two cases, said: “The outbreak in Banham, is extremely concerning and I have been monitoring the situation closely, including liaising with ministerial, parliamentary and local council colleagues.

“This has included regular contact with Carl Smith, the leader of Great Yarmouth Borough Council, and with Norfolk County Council.

“I know that significant measures have been taken to help contain this outbreak, and I fully support the efforts to increase the capacity of our local response.

“It is essential that residents continue to follow the clear social distancing and self - isolation rules. COVID has not been defeated, and as a collective everyone has a part to play to make sure that we are able to safely contain this and any future outbreak.”

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