Victorian health bosses gave a coronavirus-infected meatworks permission to send some staff back to the factory while awaiting results of their COVID-19 precautionary test.
JBS Brooklyn, in Melbourne’s western suburbs, is linked to at least 150 coronavirus infections and has shut all but one section of its plant.
A worker, who did not wish to share his name due to fear of reprisal, said COVID-19 spread through the kill floor and boning room but the cold storage facility remained open because it was not yet infected, ABC reported.
He received a letter from Victorian Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) last week, which advised all staff members in cold storage to go for a precautionary COVID-19 test ‘as soon as possible’.
‘If you have any symptoms associated with COVID-19 please seek testing immediately and isolate at home until you have received your results,’ the letter read.
The worker then received text messages from his JBS manager, who said he could come back to work before getting the all clear.
‘You can come back before your test results come back, only if you or anyone in the family is showing no symptoms,’ the manager wrote.
The worker said he spoke with the HR department at JBS and was advised he was required to attend work if not symptomatic.
He claims he was ‘repeatedly’ told he was required to work.
‘There is a chance it is still in the facility but unfortunately, money is needed and I am getting to the point where I have no choice but to risk it,’ he said.
A DHHS spokeswoman confirmed to the ABC staff who are without symptoms and not considered close contacts of infected cases could go back to work.
She said workers who were tested ‘as precaution or as part of a targeted workplace testing program’ do not need to self-isolate if they don’t have symptoms.
A JBS Australia spokesman told Daily Mail Australia it is following the DHHS advice and there had been ‘random testing of asymptomatic workers’ as a precaution.
The spokesman said DHHS allowed the staff to return to work while awaiting the results of the precautionary tests.
‘The company (JBS) has been very clear, if you have symptoms, don’t come into work,’ the spokesman said.
JBS Brooklyn has also introduced measures to keep staff safe during the pandemic.
Some of the safety measures include supervised and contactless entry and exit, separate toilets, change rooms and meal rooms, as well as social distancing and temperature testing protocols.
Premier Daniel Andrews last month said large workplaces such as cold storages presented challenges and strict measures were needed to keep the virus at bay.
Cedar Meats, an abattoir in Melbourne, is connected to 111 coronavirus infections after a worker tested positive at the beginning of April.
Outbreaks have happened at abattoirs across the world, amid growing evidence the virus survives and thrives in refrigerated environments.
Similar viruses can live for extended periods of time in cooler temperatures, and can even travel on frozen food.