Hospital staff to carry out screening of more than 1000 abattoir workers

South West Healthcare to screen Midfield Meats Warrnambool staff

Coronavirus
South West Healthcare nurses. Picture: Anthony Brady

South West Healthcare nurses. Picture: Anthony Brady

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Only staff will be screened, not family members.

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South West Healthcare staff will carry out coronavirus screening of more than 1000 Midfield Meats workers as a precautionary measure, after a contractor visited the Warrnambool site and later tested positive for the virus.

Hospital chief executive Craig Fraser said South West Healthcare was working with Midfield Meats in supporting its proactive screening of its workforce.

He said only staff would be screened, not family members.

"The screening of staff's family members, including children, can only be carried out if family members have been deemed by the Department of Health and Human Services as a close contact, or have symptoms consistent with DHHS COVID-19 screening criteria," Mr Fraser said.

South West Healthcare. Picture: Morgan Hancock

South West Healthcare. Picture: Morgan Hancock

He would not disclose how many SWH staff would be deployed to carry out the screenings, or where the workers would be screened.

Midfield caution

Earlier, Midfield group general manager Dean McKenna said the company would wait until all staff were tested, and the results known, before hopefully resuming operations later this week.

It comes as the Department of Health and Human Services data showed the Australian Lamb Colac meatworks cluster has grown to 12 cases.

Mr McKenna said the company decided late Sunday night to err on the side of caution and stop processing to conduct COVID-19 testing of all Warrnambool staff.

That was despite Health Department advice the meatworks was able to keep operating.

Midfield management was informed by the department a meat inspector who visited the site last Tuesday had tested positive five days after being at Warrnambool.

Mr McKenna said the health department informed Midfield they were able to continue operating, as all safety recommendations had been met and exceeded, but the company chose to cease production and proactively test all staff.

"We called a meeting on site last night and the company made the decision to cease production even though there is no suggestion or evidence there is a positive case connected to Midfield," he said.

"Today the company is concentrating on emptying fresh meat from all chillers and rehoming livestock already on site.

"Production will not resume until all Midfield staff in Warrnambool are COVID tested and the results are known. We have taken this course of action first and foremost for our employee's safety, their family's safety, the community's safety and the business.

"We are erring on the extreme side of caution here. There is nobody at Midfield with symptoms, we have taken this proactive action as we take our corporate and social responsibility very seriously."

The meat inspector, who is a close contact of people caught up in the Australian Lamb Company Colac cluster, developed symptoms late last week and tested positive to COVID-19 on Sunday.

"When staff arrived Monday morning we informed them of the situation. Once they have been tested staff have been told to go home and adhere to the government guidelines," Mr McKenna said.

Midfield will not process on Tuesday but hope to be back operational, later in the week if testing results permit.

"We are undertaking deep cleaning of the plant, which is something we have been doing since the pandemic began," the general manager said.

"We have been at the forefront of safety protocols throughout this crisis and will continue to do so. We deep clean daily and have had strict procedures in place to keep our employees and the broader community safe."

Mr McKenna said livestock already at the plant has been cared for, housed and fed.

"We have made alternative arrangements for livestock collection and processing and we're fortunate we have room on our own company farms to house any stock scheduled for arrival at the plant," he said.

"This is obviously a massive logistical nightmare but something we have deemed essential to be proactive during this time."

Colac shutdown

ALC said its operation would be closed for a fortnight.

"Last Friday (July 17), we confirmed that an ALC contractor employed at our Colac processing facility was in self-isolation following a positive result from a COVID-19 test performed on Friday, July 10," the company said in a statement.

"Further testing of ALC employees conducted by local health authorities has now confirmed an additional eight positive results.

"All workers employed at the site have been instructed to quarantine, and we continue to work with health authorities to finalise testing.

"In line with a direction from the Victorian Department of Health and Human Services, we are now closing our operations for at least 14 days.

"We will continue to work with health authorities to ensure we take all necessary steps to reduce the risk of further transmission.

"We would like to thank Colac Area Health and the local community for their care and support, and we are keeping in close contact with our team at what is a difficult time for them and their families."

Polwarth Liberal MP Richard Riordan said he feared a cluster at the abattoir had grown to at least 20.

So far, 12 positive cases have been linked to Australian Lamb Colac, including nine workers, a school student and close contact.

During his daily press conference Premier Daniel Andrews said the government was aware meat processing facilities were "high risk".

"We understand abattoirs are particularly high risk and they have many rules in place, they are not operating as normal," he said.

"There's no advice that anything needs to be changed there, but I'm sure we'd be open to that if it was needed.

"These are important industries and we don't want to change the rules overnight."

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The story Hospital staff to carry out screening of more than 1000 abattoir workers first appeared on The Standard.

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