AROUND 200 workers at a vegetable farm in Herefordshire have gone into isolation after 73 of them tested positive for coronavirus in the middle of the harvest season reports Chris McCullough.
The farm, AS Green and Co, grows broccoli and beans and is based at Mathon near Malvern, where the workers live on-site in mobile homes.
Public Health England (PHE) Midlands asked all of the 200 key workers to self-isolate as a precaution and the council is arranging food supplies for those on site.
A spokesperson for AS Green confirmed: “We confirm that we are working closely with Public Health England and the Public Health team at Herefordshire Council to support a number of our workers that have tested positive for Covid-19.
“As a precautionary measure we have arranged for testing of additional key workers including management team members and visitors connected with AS Green and can confirm all results to date outside of our site have been returned with negative results. To date there are 73 positive cases on our site.
“Our site is currently closed for all visitors and with the assistance of the various bodies no workers are being permitted to leave our site and are receiving the required support at our site.
“Our workforce and local community are our priority at this difficult time 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.”
Katie Spence, PHE Midlands health protection director said the results of the tests showed a “significant percentage of positive cases” despite the individuals being asymptomatic, which means they were not showing any symptoms of the disease.
She said: “A small number of workers became symptomatic earlier this week and they and a few close contacts among the workforce were tested initially and found to be positive.
“In line with NHS guidance, affected individuals were asked to self-isolate for seven days, with their households and close contacts asked to isolate for 14 days.
“As we have seen a global trend of large food producers being subject to outbreaks, as a precautionary measure, the decision was made to test the entire workforce.”
The workers are employed to pick and pack the crops which are delivered to and sold by the large retailers.
The farm stressed the staff were its priority and that it was assisting the council wherever it could.
Karen Wright, director of Public Health for Herefordshire, added: “While Herefordshire is the first to experience an outbreak of this kind, this is not unexpected.
“Our priority is to protect the health and wellbeing of all residents in our community. Prompt testing on the farm has allowed us to understand transmission and control the spread of infection.
“We continue to support the farm management, their workers, who form an important part of our local economy, and the local community through this challenging time,” she said.