Coronavirus: 73 cases at produce farm in Mathon

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Public Health England has confirmed an outbreak of coronavirus at a produce farm in Herefordshire.

Herefordshire Council is working with Public Health England (PHE) Midlands to support vegetable producers AS Green and Co, based in Mathon near Malvern, following an outbreak of COVID-19 among their workforce. 

Around 200 key workers are employed to carry out picking and packing work vital to the UK food supply chain and local economy. During the harvesting season, the workforce resides in mobile homes based on the farm, so as a precaution, the whole group are being treated as one extended bubble. Workers are being asked to remain on the farm during the period of isolation and stay within household groups, to reduce risk of spread within the workforce and into the wider community. Herefordshire Council is arranging food and essential supplies for residents on the site, while they self-isolate. 

Katie Spence, PHE Midlands Health Protection Director, said: “We are working closely with the management at AS Green and Co to support the health and wellbeing of their workforce and wider public health.

“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. 

“To support this workforce of around 200 key workers, the company has put in place a range of infection control measures to try to reduce the risk of staff being exposed to COVID-19. Measures include supporting testing on site, promoting social distancing in communal social areas and in the indoor packaging area; providing PPE for staff where applicable, encouraging regular handwashing for at least 20 seconds, and promoting the use of face coverings in closed areas.

“Despite these measures, a small number of workers became symptomatic earlier this week and they and 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 7 days, with their households and close contacts asked to isolate for 14 days. 

“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. The initial batch of results showed a significant percentage of positive cases, despite these individuals being asymptomatic. We are still awaiting a few final results, but currently we have 72 positive cases of COVID-19 among the workforce.

“PHE Midlands and Herefordshire Council are therefore working with AS Green and Co to closely monitor and manage the outbreak and support individual workers.” 

A spokesperson for AS Green 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.”

Karen Wright, Director of Public Health for Herefordshire, said: “While Herefordshire is the first to experience an outbreak of this kind, this is not unexpected. Our priority is to protect the health and wellbeing of all residents in our community. Prompt testing on the farm has allowed us to understand transmission and control the spread of infection. 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. 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.” 

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