Coronavirus: 73 contract COVID-19 after outbreak on Herefordshire farm

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Dozens of key workers picking and packing vegetables at a farm in Herefordshire have tested positive for coronavirus.

The council says 220 people at AS Green & Co, based in Mathon near Malvern, have been tested for COVID-19 and 72 came back positive following an outbreak there.

Workers are being asked to isolate on the farm and stay within household groups to reduce the risk of spreading the virus within the workforce, and are being treated as "one extended bubble".

A spokesperson for the company said: "Our staff are our priority, they are hard-working key workers helping us provide food for the country during these unusual times.

"We contacted PHE and we are working closely with them and public health at Herefordshire Council to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

"As a precautionary measure we have arranged for testing of additional key workers including management team members and visitors connected with A S Green, and can confirm all results to date outside of our site have been returned with negative results."

The farm has closed for all visitors and it says Public Health England has advised that "it is very unlikely COVID-19 can be transmitted through food or food packaging, so shoppers can remain confident buying British fruit and veg".

Herefordshire Council says it is arranging food and essential supplies for residents on the site while they self-isolate.

Karen Wright, director of public health for Herefordshire Council, says "prompt testing" on the farm has allowed them to "understand transmission and control the spread of infection".

She said: "While Herefordshire is the first to experience an outbreak of this kind, this is not unexpected.

"We continue to support the farm management, their workers - who form an important part of our local economy, and the local community through this challenging time.

Ms Wright added that the situation was now "contained", and regarding the potential risk to people outside the farm, she said she was "not concerned about the wider community at all".

She said most of the seasonal workers are from eastern Europe and that translators were on site to support people.

"There was an individual who was unwell yesterday, but they are absolutely fine, so that's great," she continued.

"People are really feeling supported and I think they would say that themselves. People are well, and they are being looked after.

"Anyone who has a fever, persistent dry cough, or loss or change in their sense of taste or smell should call 119 or go online to arrange a test."

Katie Spence, PHE Midlands health protection director, said: "At this phase of the pandemic, we still expect to see cases in the community and within settings where people are closer together, such as workplaces, which is why the test and trace system is important, to help us pick up on any potential problems and swiftly to take remedial action to reduce spread."

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She added that despite health measures being introduced, "a small number of workers became symptomatic earlier this week", and that "a few close contacts among the workforce were tested initially and found to be positive".

"In line with NHS guidance, affected individuals were asked to self-isolate for seven days, with their households and close contacts asked to isolate for 14 days," she said.

"As we have seen a global trend of large food producers being subject to outbreaks, as a precautionary measure, the decision was made to test the entire workforce."

Sky News

© Sky News 2020

LISTEN: Karen Wright, director of public health for Herefordshire Council has given an update on the COVID-19 outbreak at AS Green and Co. produce farm in Mathon.

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