MORE than 70 workers have caught coronavirus at a dessert factory in Nottinghamshire after the area was added to the local lockdown watchlist.
The outbreak at the Bakkavor factory – which supplies Tesco, M&S and Waitrose – was first reported earlier this month after 39 staff members had the potentially deadly bug.
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Health bosses have now said the number of cases at the unit in Newark has almost doubled to 72.
All 1,600 members of staff at the site will be tested for Covid-19 in a bid to shut down the cluster – with 700 having already been done so.
Last week, Newark and Sherwood was added to the government’s “watchlist”, meaning residents could soon be restricted from seeing their families indoors.
In the district, there are 26.3 Covid cases per 100,000 people – compared to 34 cases per 100,000 in Manchester and 56.3 per 100,000 in Leicester.
The fresh outbreak comes weeks after a Bakkavor boss was secretly filmed threatening to sack staff who stayed at home during the pandemic.
In April, operations manager Sean Madden was covertly recorded telling staff at a factory in North London that they would be fired if they failed to come in.
In a briefing, he said the firm had suffered with falling order numbers and may have to make redundancies, adding: “If we need to get rid of 200 people’s jobs next month, I’m going to look at who turned up to work and I’m going to look at who didn’t bother turning up to work.
“The people who didn’t bother turning up to work, you know, they will be the first people that we have to get rid of, unfortunately.
“If we look at the 45 per cent of people who are off sick (at that time), maybe five per cent of those have coronavirus.
“The other 40 per cent of people just don’t want to come.”
The people who didn’t bother turning up to work, you know, they will be the first people that we have to get rid of, unfortunately.”
Mr Madden also told workers social distancing at the factory was impossible, and that they should wear a sports “multi-tube” around their neck to cover their mouths and nose.
The footage, which was handed to The Guardian newspaper and ITV news, showed workers sat less than two metres apart.
It raised fears staff may have felt pressured into turning up to shifts.
At the time, a Bakkavor spokesman apologised to staff for “any miscommunication or worry caused”, and said: “We take this very seriously and are investigating the matter.
“The manager in question has been given leave and prior to his return to work, he will undertake further training around his role and responsibilities and the high standards we expect of a Bakkavor manager.
“Our advice to all our staff is to stay at home if they are feeling unwell or believe they have symptoms or if they are self-isolating due to members of their household displaying symptoms – points that were communicated at the staff briefing you have footage from.”
Referring to the Newark outbreak, Bakkavor business director for desserts, Shona Taylor, said: “We understand the importance of the testing and I have been immensely proud of the management team and all the efforts that have been made to ensure we could deliver this for our colleagues.
“The programme has been positively received, and colleagues have been supportive and reassured that every effort is being taken to ensure their safety.”
Jonathan Gribbin, director of public health at Notts County Council, said: “Bakkavor have been very co-operative and we hope that the testing of their employees will allow us to find out more about where people are acquiring the infection.
“However, we know that not all the cases in Newark are linked to Bakkavor so it is vital that people continue to follow the strict guidance to prevent the transmission of Covid-19 across the whole community.”
The spike has raised fears among locals that lockdown restrictions could be reimposed in Newark, which has a population of over 27,000. A mobile testing centre has already started operating in the market town.
Bakkavor is one of the UK’s largest manufacturers of prepared food, with 25 factories across the country.
It produces meals, salads, desserts and pizzas for all of the UK’s major supermarkets, including Tesco lamb kofta, and M&S’s ‘dirty fries’.
The company employs 20,000 people worldwide, with 45 locations in the UK, USA and China.