Last reviewed 1 July 2020

Concerns have been raised about the high number of Covid-19 outbreaks in meat processing plants and slaughterhouses in the UK.

The cases have included a chicken processing site in Anglesey and plants in Wrexham and West Yorkshire.

There have also been major outbreaks in Germany, France, Spain and the USA.

Commenting on the issue, Prof Lawrence Young, Professor of Molecular Oncology, University of Warwick, said, “Factories and, in particular, indoor areas which are cold and damp are perfect environments for coronavirus to linger and spread. The virus survives on cold surfaces and, in the absence of ventilation and sunlight, virus-containing droplets from infected individuals are more likely to spread, settle and stay viable.

“In these enclosed areas and on busy production lines, social distancing is more difficult. Speaking loudly or shouting across the noise of machinery can also result in the production of more infectious droplets and aerosols.

“All of this confirms the importance of testing individuals for symptoms in the workplace — testing of all people for infectious virus in workplaces would be very difficult; we just need to pay attention to symptoms, routinely check body temperature and insist that people report any other symptoms — dry coughs, loss of taste/smell.”

The trade union Unite has slammed the downgrading of the two-metre social distancing rule and warned it risks causing more outbreaks of coronavirus within the meat processing sector.

Unite has called for “significant intervention” by both the Government and employers to prevent Covid-19 spreading at meat processing factories.

Bev Clarkson, Unite National Officer, said, “Many employers are barely taking notice of the two-metre social distancing rule as it is. Any downgrade for the meat industry in the current environment will simply give irresponsible bosses the excuse they need to do away with social distancing entirely. Put simply, it will risk more outbreaks at factories across the country.”