Doctor explains why Covid-19 might spread faster in meat processing plants

19 June 2020, 17:30

EJ Ward

By EJ Ward

As several meat processing plants across the UK experience local outbreaks of coronavirus a doctor has explained to LBC why those facilities may be more susceptible to the virus.

With many people asking questions around Covid-19, Eddie Mair was joined by a special guest to help resolve LBC listener's questions,

Dr Chris Smith, Presenter of the Naked Scientists and consultant virologist at Cambridge University was on hand to help resolve queries.

Mike from East Yorkshire called in after he had read about Covid-19 outbreaks in 28 meat processing factories across Europe, as well as two in the UK in Wales and West Yorkshire.

Mike wanted to know if it could be the temperature of the plants causing the virus to spread.

The listener's question came after the news of an outbreak centred on the Kober meat processing plant in Cleckheaton, West Yorkshire, and a further outbreak confirmed at a poultry processing plant on Anglesey with more reported in Wrexham.

Dr Smith said he was aware of the outbreaks in other countries, and other continents with the US seeing a similar trend.

He said "we are seeing this similar thing happening again and again," adding there could be a common factor allowing the virus to spread.

The virologist said it "might be that people can't observe social distancing in this environment," or that "it could be that there's poor changes of the air or a lot of chilled air being blown around."

A virologist explained why there might be more spread of Covid-19 in cold environments
A virologist explained why there might be more spread of Covid-19 in cold environments. Picture: LBC/PA

He said measures designed to keep the meat cold could be contributing to distributing the virus.

Or he said it could be "all of the above," he reassured LBC that public health officials and epidemiologists would be going into factories to investigate the spread of the virus.

He said it was vital to get to the bottom of how it was spreading because it could lead to factories being "much safer."

The virus expert said it would not come down to one single thing, but that "temperature is going to play a part."

He explained the virus spreads in warm and humid environments through droplets, but if the droplets are being "stirred up by lots of air conditioning" with dry, colder air, the droplets will "stay smaller, and stay airborne for much longer."

Explaining that in humid environments droplets stay in the air for shorter periods of time, the doctor said Mike was right, "temperature could be a factor here."

But, he said it could also be because people were working in such close confines.

The Yorkshire Post also reported that it could be due to the strenuous nature of these jobs mean workers are more likely to perspire and breathe heavily, thus spreading bodily fluids more easily.

Shouting to be heard above the noise of loud machinery could also enable saliva droplets to spread between workers.