Meatworkers to be tested and results known before Midfield operations resume

Whole workforce will be tested after positive inspector previously visited site

UPDATED
Coronavirus
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Whole workforce will be tested after positive inspector previously visited site.

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UPDATE, 2.20pm: Warrnambool meatworks Midfield will wait until all staff are coronavirus 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.

Midfield group general Manager Dean 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 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. Testing is being undertaken by Southwest Health Care on site and 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."

At 9am:

Midfield Meat's Dean McKenna said more than 1000 workers would be tested for coronavirus on Monday.

"Last Tuesday an inspector worked at our site who showed no symptoms but has subsequently tested positive to COVID-19," he said.

"Midfield officials have had discussions with the Health Department over the weekend and they said we could open for business on Monday.

"But, as a company we chose to cease production for two days while we do a full round of testing of all employees.

"There will be over 1000 employees tested today.

"We have taken the precaution to close for the safety of our workers and the community of Warrnambool.

"Let me be very clear - there have been no positive cases at Midfields.

"Our decision has caused great unrest, but we feel it was the only decision to make for the safety of our workers and the community."

Mr McKenna said The Warrnambool Meat Barn would remain open for business as there had been no positive tests recorded at Midfields.

St Joseph's Primary School has advised students of parents who work at the abattoir to stay at home on Monday.

Principal Michael Gray said it was a "purely precautionary measure".

"After talking with Midfield, who are doing precautionary testing, we have advised our families who work there that their children should stay home until testing is completed," he told The Standard.

"Midfield do not have any identified cases and we fully support their approach in helping to improve testing rates across regional Victoria."

Earlier: Warrnambool's Midfield Meats has been closed this morning as a coronavirus health precaution.

It's understood that the Colac meat inspector who tested positive to the virus late last week had previously visited the Warrnambool abattoir site.

The Warrnambool meatworks is expected to be closed for a couple of days and the whole workforce will be tested for COVID-19.

A close contact of an inspector is understood to have tested positive and attended Trinity College in Colac last week.

Possible close contacts of that student included Hampden league juniors footballers, leading to some junior games being cancelled by league officials on Saturday.

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The story Meatworkers to be tested and results known before Midfield operations resume first appeared on The Standard.

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