Coronavirus testing rolls out

Health authorities start rolling coronvirus testing in meatworks

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Coronavirus
TESTING ROLLOUT: Coronavirus surveillance testing is being rolled out in abattoirs and meat processing plants.

TESTING ROLLOUT: Coronavirus surveillance testing is being rolled out in abattoirs and meat processing plants.

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Weekly testing looms for one in four workers in abattoirs and meat plants as part of government surveillance blitz

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The head of Australia's peak meat processing body has welcomed closer links with Victoria's health authorities, as they roll out coronavirus surveillance testing throughout the sector.

The government will carry out thousands of coronavirus tests in the state's meat processing, supermarket and temperature-controlled perishable distribution centres.

Victoria's COVID Testing Program commander Jeroen Weimar also said a new workplace saliva testing trial would take place at Hazeldenes Chicken Farm, Longwood.

"I'm always worried about coronavirus re-entering some of these facilities," Mr Weimar said.

Authorities were concerned the risk of rapid transmission was far higher in meat processing works.

"This is our way of saying we will run some surveillance, to ensure we spot this, at the earliest opportunity."

Mr Weimar said the testing would continue "for the foreseeable future."

Australian Meat Industry Council chief executive Patrick Hutchinson said the sector's main concern was how the testing would be carried out.

"What we've always said, in regards to testing, is that we want to make sure the issues of logistics, and the pain that goes with that, is commensurate with the risk we are managing," Mr Hutchinson said.

"At the moment, we are hearing the right noises from the Department of Health and Human Services about its willingness to help us, because it is an impact on business."

Hazeldene testing

This is our way of saying we will run some surveillance, to ensure we spot this, at the earliest opportunity. - COVID Testing Program commander Jeroen Weimar

Mr Hutchinson commended the Hazeldene program.

The saliva testing trial at Hazeldene's is a partnership between the state government and the Doherty Institute.

Hazeldene's chief executive Mark Heintz said the organisation was putting its staff through the trial for the good of the community and their own health.

"We had the whole site tested six weeks ago and this is the follow up to that," Mr Heintz said.

"It's about how it can be done. If we are in regional Victoria, there is the opportunity for someone to come out, on-site, and do it."

Mr Hutchinson said the industry needed to continue to encourage staff to get tested.

A positive relationship with the Australasian Meat Industry Employees Union would assist in that, he said.

A lot of AMIC members were also testing their staff anyway, at their expense.

"What's clear is that DHHS is now starting to understand the issues and circumstances facing, our industry," he said.

"They are coming to the party and working closely with us, as opposed to through our proxy, for want of a better term, which is Agriculture Victoria."

Mr Hutchinson said the industry had initially struggling through what it needed to do, and how it needed to do it.

"It was very difficult but we need to make sure we are effectively tackling this - we are not there yet, but we are getting close."

Mr Wiemar said DHHS was organising proactive surveillance testing, in around a quarter of the workplaces, every single week.

Testing rollout

The testing started in Nhill and then would move to Bacchus Marsh, Ararat and Stawell and other operators across regional and metropolitan Victoria.

"The reason we are doing surveillance testing in those critical areas is to make sure we have a really good understanding of whether the virus, in any shape or form, is still circulating in those industries," he said.

"Once the virus penetrates, it can spread very quickly.

"We thank all the operators, in all of those industries, for the exceptional measures they are taking with their workforce and industry, in terms of PPE, distancing and all the other things we have asked them do."

Mr Weimar said the testing would continue "in the weeks ahead' to ensure there were no traces of the virus, in plants within the sector.

"They are all operating in an environment where, if the virus was to get in, the risk of transmission is really high," he said.

"We know the virus survives particularly well in cool conditions we know it survives better on stainless steel metal type surfaces.

"And we know that, by the very nature of meat processing plants, there's a lot of cold, cold metal surfaces a lot of fluids fly around the place."

He said there had been 1617 significant outbreaks over the last three months in abattoirs and meat processing centres.

"That's despite the fact that all those operators have done a load of work to be COVID safe," Mr Weimar said.

He said testing would give authorities a really good sample of an active workforce, that was moving around the state.

"It gives us a sense of how well those protective measures are operating."

Australian Lamb Company, Colac, was already getting its staff tested, he said.

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