A pork processor has said it’s closing temporarily for mass testing of its 500 staff after a “significant” outbreak in which 35 workers tested positive for Covid-19.
Cranswick plc in Ballymena said it had also temporarily suspended its exports to China in light of the positive Covid tests.
The number of staff affected was confirmed by Health Minister Robin Swann at 35 though the company would not divulge the number.
It’s the first major employer here to shut down for a prolonged period to deal with an outbreak.
And it’s requiring even staff who have tested negative to self-isolate for 14 days - which is likely to mean that the factory will also shut for 14 days.
At Thursday’s press conference, the Minister said: “As of yesterday evening there had been 35 cases identified within staff and a further smaller number of positive cases with contacts.
“Supported by the advice of the Public Health Agency and Chief Medical Officer, the outbreak is so significant and so extensive that all the workers in the factory and all recent visitors should now be required to self-isolate.
“This will see the plant closure of the factory and as a priority all staff will be tested and the plant will have a full deep clean over the period of the closure.”
But he said the outbreak “was by no means unique” to Cranswick.
“There have been outbreaks in similar facilities in England, Scotland and Wales and the Republic of Ireland.
“The Public Health Agency are on the ground and will continue to offer and provide support to all relevant staff and the community,” the Minister said.
A spokesman for Cranswick said: “There has been a recent increase in the number of confirmed Covid-19 cases in Ballymena and the wider region and this has been acknowledged as a community issue.
“As a result of this, we can confirm that a number of colleagues at our Ballymena site have tested positive for Covid-19.
“Working with the Public Health Authority (PHA), we have taken the decision to send all of our colleagues for testing.
“If the test results are positive, the individual will be required to self-isolate for 10 days; if the test results are negative, the individual will be required to self-isolate for 14 days.
“Therefore, the site will need to temporarily suspend production.
“The health and safety of all of our colleagues has always been our number one priority and we have done everything we can to protect our Ballymena team.”
The company said it had taken measures at the outset of the pandemic to protect staff, including social distancing measures, personal protective equipment (PPE) for all staff and additional cleaning and hygiene measures across the site.
North Antrim DUP MP Ian Paisley said he was concerned about the impact of the closure on the agri-food industry. He said the company had behaved responsibly but added: “We cannot have a situation where Covid prevents factory production that ultimately damages the NI agri-food sector. That would be catastrophic.”