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Hopes mass testing in Norfolk meat factories could prevent Covid outbreaks

PUBLISHED: 12:37 12 November 2020 | UPDATED: 12:48 12 November 2020

Banham Poultry in Attleborough, where there was a coronavirus outbreak in August / Dr Louise Smith, Norfolk's director of public health. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY/ELLA WILKINSON

Banham Poultry in Attleborough, where there was a coronavirus outbreak in August / Dr Louise Smith, Norfolk's director of public health. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY/ELLA WILKINSON

DENISE BRADLEY/ELLA WILKINSON

Mass testing could be used for workers in Norfolk’s meat manufacturing factories to head off future coronavirus outbreaks.

Dr Louise Smith, director of public health for Norfolk. Picture: Norfolk County CouncilDr Louise Smith, director of public health for Norfolk. Picture: Norfolk County Council

The government this week announced almost 70 areas which will be given rapid test kits for mass testing, which has already been happening in Liverpool.

Norfolk missed out on that initial roll-out of kit, but the county council has told the government it would like to be considered for the next distribution.

And Dr Louise Smith, the county’s director of public health, said it could, potentially, help to prevent outbreaks from happening in food processing factories.

Recent months have seen Covid-19 outbreaks at such factories at Bernard Matthews, Banham Poultry and, most recently, at Cranswick Country Foods in Watton.

Cranswick Country Foods factory in Watton, which had a Covid-19 outbreak. Pictures: ARCHANTCranswick Country Foods factory in Watton, which had a Covid-19 outbreak. Pictures: ARCHANT

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While efforts, including getting staff tested and isolated where necessary, have brought those outbreaks under control, Dr Smith said the council is exploring whether it can get government testing kits for regular mass testing of the workforces at such factories.

Dr Smith said the type of tests being used in Liverpool - lateral testing, which give a result within about 15 minutes - were probably not sensitive enough to be useful in controlling an actual outbreak.

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She said lab-based testing, rather than the rapid tests, was more appropriate in those circumstances.

But she said the quick tests could prove useful in regular tests of the workforce in factories at other times - to reduce the chances of an outbreak.

She said: “We are looking at whether we could use it within the industry to pick up cases early.

“We are in conversation about that and we need to think about how it could work, but we are talking to the factories about a number of options.”

She said no decisions had been made, but she would want to focus on such high-risk groups.

Virologists say a number of reasons contribute to outbreaks in food factories.

Factors include that the virus remains on surfaces longer in the cold and people may have to shout more in noisy conditions - potentially spreading more droplets containing the virus.

Social distancing can also be difficult and some of the workers may live or travel and from work together.

MORE: Scientists ‘ready and poised’ for mass testing in Norfolk


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