MP’s ‘emergency meeting’ amid track and trace concern around Banham Poultry coronavirus outbreak
PUBLISHED: 22:22 31 August 2020 | UPDATED: 22:22 31 August 2020
An “emergency meeting” has been convened by a Norfolk MP who says stepping up track and tracing after the coronavirus outbreak at Banham Poultry is crucial to avoid a catastrophe.
Mid Norfolk MP George Freeman said the meeting will take place at 9am on Tuesday, September 1, amid his calls for a more urgent response to the outbreak at the Attleborough meat factory.
Norfolk County Council confirmed today that a further 16 people had tested positive for Covid-19, bringing the total number of cases linked to the factory to 96.
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.
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.
But Mr Freeman had criticised what he said was a lack of proper track and tracing following the outbreak.
He had said: “The lack of proper track and trace following the outbreak amongst workers in the Norfolk poultry sector is potentially catastrophic to our vital local food industry and economy.
“We should have hundreds of public health officials and volunteers out with clipboards this weekend knocking on doors. Every day the risk rises.
“Norfolk is home to thousands of low paid workers in poultry and pork factories, many of whom live in hostels. All 800 staff at Banham and all their close contacts need tracing and testing, urgently.
“If this ends up with a pandemic and lockdown of Norfolk food businesses and towns like Attleborough, Thetford and Dereham, there will be serious questions to answer about how this was allowed to happen.
“We need a much more urgent local operation led by our local councils and local public health officials.”
And, on Monday night, Mr Freeman said he had convened tomorrow’s emergency meeting. He said it was needed to “step up” track and trace to avoid “catastrophic cross-contamination” in the wider poultry, pork and food sector and to head off local lockdowns.
The Attleborough factory has been deep cleaned and Banham Poultry is bringing in a new group of 45 people to continue to staff the slaughterhouse and ensure the euthanasing of birds can continue.
At a press conference on Monday, Dr Louise Smith, director of public health in Norfolk 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.
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“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.
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