No need for wider local lockdown as Banham Poultry coronavirus outbreak hits 75 cases
PUBLISHED: 20:03 26 August 2020 | UPDATED: 10:28 27 August 2020
Copyright: Archant 2020
Fears that a coronavirus outbreak at a chicken factory will plunge the county back into lockdown have been allayed, as the number of confirmed cases among staff at the site passes 70.
On Wednesday evening it emerged that the factory at the centre of the outbreak, Banham Poultry, has voluntarily agreed to shut part of the factory and place 350 members of staff into isolation.
It comes as it was announced that testing at the factory, near Attleborough, had returned 75 positive tests out of 347 carried out - with the final figure yet to be confirmed.
But Dr Louise Smith, director of Public Health England in Norfolk has ruled out any immediate local lockdown, as was seen in Leicester early this year.
She said: “At this point what we are doing is a very specific localised lockdown to a very specific setting, the who work there and their households. We do not anticipate the need for a geographical or town-based lockdown at this stage and we would only move to that kind of measure if we were getting evidence of spread in the general public that could not be linked to a specific location, such as this outbreak.
“We are not at that level at this stage and the background level of infection in Norfolk outside of this outbreak is low.”
Dr Smith said the vast majority of cases in the factory had occurred among staff working in the cutting room - where slaughtered chickens are chopped into specific cuts - and that the number of cases elsewhere in the factory were low. It is this part of the factory that Banham Poultry has agreed to temporarily close and the section will be deep cleaned.
However, she added that the central government could decide to over-rule the recommendation for a partial closure and instead advise to close it entirely.
She also said that the risk of the virus spreading through food packaging from the packaging was “very low” and that “we do not have evidence that this happens.”
Dr Smith said the majority of the workers who had tested positive lived in three districts, Breckland, Great Yarmouth and Norwich, and that a number of the workers lived in the same household.
She added that the origin of the first case, which was confirmed on Friday, was not clear and that one of the 75 people to test positive had been admitted to the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital.
Andrew Proctor, leader of the county council, said that Banham Poultry had been “extraordinarily co-operative” during the outbreak
Mid-Norfolk MP George Freeman said surrounding communities must still remain vigilant. He said: “The news is no cause for panic - Norfolk’s public health teams and councils have dealt with the virus better than many areas. “But it is a reminder that with cooler autumn weather looming we will all need to be vigilant - especially in workplaces with high densities of staff and customers at risk of chest infections - about reducing the risk of a second surge of Covid-19.”
Philip Leslie, mayor of Attleborough, said he had expected to see an increase in confirmed cases, but also moved to reassure people living in the town.
“They have tested all 300 staff which I think has been exceptional – we are very grateful for Public Health England, their quick response and the way they have escalated resources to tackle it,” he said. “However, it will raise eyebrows within the community to see such a large number of confirmed cases.
“We need to remain vigilant and keep following the government guidance. But we also need to have good practice within our homes as well, people are becoming a little lax and do not follow rules in their own homes.”
Karl Coan is manager at Breckland Tyre Services, a business located near the factory just off Station Road. He said: “It is not nice to have it on your doorstep, it is slightly worrying. But from a business point of view, we feel safe because our procedures are very tight.”
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