Coronavirus: Health officials 'urgently' seeking hundreds of workers at Wales food factory

29 June 2020, 17:55

Public Health Wales is trying to trace 300 workers at Rowan Food in Wrexham
Public Health Wales is trying to trace 300 workers at Rowan Food in Wrexham. Picture: PA

By Ewan Somerville

Health officials are “urgently” hunting for hundreds of workers at a major Wales food factory at the centre of a coronavirus outbreak.

Public Health Wales is trying to trace 300 workers at Rowan Food in Wrexham, where 166 have tested positive for Covid-19.

More than 1,000 people work at the site, which supplies major supermarkets including Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Asda.

In a statement today, Public Health Wales said: “We are working with Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board to urgently contact just over 300 workers that have not yet presented for testing.

“As we would expect with any focused track and trace process, we will identify additional asymptomatic cases. Finding these cases does not mean that the rate of infection in the Wrexham area is increasing as a whole.

“There is no evidence that Rowan Foods is the source of the outbreak.

“The multi-agency team managing the outbreak with Public Health Wales will continue to review the situation and work with the employer, their workforce and wider community to bring this outbreak to a swift conclusion.”

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Workers at the site staged a walkout in April over an alleged lack of protection from the virus.

Unite, the trade union, claimed the company did not deal with health and safety concerns urgently after negotiations over sick pay collapsed.

A spokesman for Rowan Foods told the BBC: "We have been proactively introducing new operational changes at the site for some months now, since the issuing of government guidance for the food industry in March 2020, to ensure that we maintain social distancing wherever practically possible, and have also included new mitigations such as screens and visors.”

Two other food processing plants have had confirmed cases in Wales, with the largest number at 2 Sisters in Anglesey.

Some 200 coronavirus cases have been recorded at the chicken factory, which employs about 500 people in Llangefni, Anglesey.

In Merthyr Tydfil, 33 cases have been confirmed at the Kepak Food Group plant, but an outbreak has not been declared, Welsh Health Minister Vaughan Gething said.

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Meanwhile, a total of 165 staff who work at Kober meat factory in Cleckheaton, West Yorkshire, have now tested positive for the virus.

Kirklees Council said no-one at the factory had fallen seriously ill with the virus, while Asda, which sells goods from the site, said the factory had reopened with reduced capacity.

Sir Patrick Vallance, the chief scientific officer, said the virus “prefers” cool environments such as meat-processing plants, but that meat was unlikely to be a vector for spreading the virus.

“The meat itself is not the issue but the environment in which this takes place is,” he told the Downing Street briefing on Thursday.

England's chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty said: “Meat-packing factories, abattoirs and food-processing and packing areas have led to several outbreaks around the world and, therefore, are an area where we'll have to take the mitigation efforts particularly seriously.”

The factory hotspots have prompted fears local lockdowns may have to be imposed, especially in Anglesey, however Wales is already following a slower timetable of easing the curbs than England.

It comes as the Leicester mayor Sir Peter Soulsby said the Government had told him pubs and restaurants may have to stay closed for two more weeks in the city, when they reopen in England on Saturday, following a surge in Covid-19 infections.