Virus outbreak on UK farm forces 200 workers to self-isolate

About 200 workers on a farm in England have been told to self-isolate after 73 of them tested positive for coronavirus.

No workers are being permitted to leave the vegetable farm, operated by AS Green and Co near Malvern in Herefordshire, as health officials seek to control the outbreak.

Public Health England said on Sunday that, because a global trend shows large food producers being subject to Covid-19 outbreaks, the entire workforce at the farm had been tested.

“We are still awaiting a few final results, but currently we have 73 positive cases of Covid-19 among the workforce,” said Katie Spence, PHE Midlands health protection director.

Last month, one of the UK’s largest chicken producers was forced to halt production at a plant in Wales after dozens of employees fell ill with the virus. In Anglesey the 2 Sisters Food Group shut its plant temporarily after 58 virus cases.

In a joint statement, PHE Midlands and Herefordshire council said the 200 workers carrying out picking and packing at the AS Green and Co farm were being treated as one “extended bubble”.

During the harvesting season, the workers live in mobile homes at the farm.

The council is arranging for food and other essential supplies for workers while they self-isolate.

Karen Wright, director of public health for Herefordshire, said the county was the first to experience “an outbreak of this kind”. “Prompt testing on the farm has allowed us to understand the transmission and control the spread of infection,” she added.

AS Green and Co, a family-run business, specialises in growing broccoli and beans. According to the company’s website, produce from AS Green and Co is sold by supermarkets including Asda, J Sainsbury and Tesco.

In a statement, AS Green and Co said that PHE advised that it was “very unlikely Covid-19 can be transmitted through food or food packaging, so shoppers can remain confident buying British fruit and veg”.

It also said its workforce and the local community were the priority and “we continue to follow the guidance of the relevant bodies to ensure that the spread of the virus is controlled and our workforce is supported”.

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