A CORONAVIRUS outbreak has forced a meat processing factory to close its doors as 35 workers were struck down with the killer bug.
Cranswick Country Foods, which processes pigs in Cullybackey, Northern Ireland, will shut for a deep clean following the cluster of coronavirus cases among their staff members.
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Health Minister Robin Swann said 35 cases had been identified at the meat plant – which has 500 workers.
The company briefed its workers on Thursday, with the closure taking effect from on Saturday evening.
A company spokesman told the BBC: “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 Public Health Agency said it had made recommendations to the to business in the area, which it did not name.
It said: “These include the testing of all staff this week and self-isolation of staff identified as close contacts of cases.”
It is understood testing and tracing will aim to identify staff who may have come into contact with the infected, while the plant will be deep cleaned.
The Mid and East Antrim Council areas have seen a spike in community cases in the past week, with 80 new cases.
It is understood that the meat plant will be the first in Northern Ireland to close after a cluster of Covid-19 cases.
But there have been other factories with confirmed cases among their workforce.
Officials raised the alarm after a string of food processing plants were hit by outbreaks of deadly coronavirus.
By June 25, four food factories had reported more than 450 workers between them testing positive with the virus.
Cool temperatures and people working in close proximity on noisy production lines can facilitate the spread of the virus at meat plants.
But processors have spent considerable sums putting measures in place to try and mitigate the risk – including using personal protective equipment for workers, screens to separate work stations on production lines and staggered shift times.