A meat processing plant in Co Antrim is to temporarily close after a number of staff members tested positive for coronavirus.
Cranswick Country Foods in Cullybackey processes pigs.
It is set to close temporarily from Saturday evening for a deep clean and to allow all staff members to be tested for Covid-19, the company has confirmed.
Health Minister Robin Swann described the outbreak as “significant” adding that 35 staff members have tested positive, as well as a smaller number of their contacts.
In a statement Cranswick Country Foods 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 company added: “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.
“From the outset of the pandemic, we have implemented additional measures to protect our team, including social distancing measures, recommended PPE for all employees in line with the official guidelines and we have introduced additional cleaning and hygiene measures across the site.
“Throughout this period, we have worked closely with the regulatory agencies, including the PHA, DAERA and the HSENI who have approved the action plan in place at the site.”
The Public Health Agency confirmed that it has made a “number of significant recommendations to a business in the Mid and East Antrim council area where a cluster of Covid-19 has been identified”.
“These include testing of all staff this week and self-isolation of staff identified as close contacts of cases,” the PHA said in a statement.
“The agency is working with the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) and Mid and East Antrim Borough Council to manage the situation and protect the workforce and wider community.
“Testing and contact tracing is being conducted to identify staff who may be potentially affected to help prevent any further spread within the community.
“We will not comment on individual cases as this could lead to people being identified and deter others with symptoms coming forward to be tested.
“We would ask everyone to be mindful of this risk.”
Unite the union regional officer Liam Gallagher said he was seeking assurances from management.
“One of the best ways for the sector to address the spread of Covid-19 in meat plants would be to assure all workers that they will suffer no financial loss if they report symptoms or self-isolate.
“Workers must also be confident that they can report breaches of health and safety without suffering any detriment.
“This pandemic demonstrated that decent treatment of workers is not only socially and economically necessary: it is also a public health necessity.”
Meanwhile a nightclub in Belfast has announced it will not open after a staff member tested positive for Covid-19.
In a social media post, Thompsons said all other staff members have been tested and are awaiting their results.
“Sadly we cannot open until we are certain that everyone employed at Thompsons is in the clear,” they said.
“In the interim the entire venue is undergoing a deep clean, fumigation and decontamination in preparation for re-opening this weekend.”
Another 51 people in Northern Ireland have tested positive for the virus on Thursday according to the Department of Health.
Some 298 people have tested positive for the virus in the last seven days.
“Most of these cases (79) are in the Mid and East Antrim Council area.
The second most cases (77) were detected in the Belfast City Council area.
No further deaths with Covid-19 were reported on Thursday leaving the tally in the region, according to the department, at 559.