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Now a THIRD food factory in Wales is hit by Covid-19

A Covid-19 outbreak has broken out at a meat processing plant in Merthyr Tydfil, the third Welsh food factory to be hit by the virus in a week.

At least 34 people have tested positive at the plant run by Kepak, with eight of them discovered this month and six people currently off work sick.

A health minister in Wales, Vaughan Gething, said this afternoon that a ‘small cluster’ of cases was being investigated at the factory. 

It comes after the whole island of Anglesey — home to 70,000 people — came under threat of lockdown when a chicken factory shut down because 158 staff tested positive for Covid-19. Another outbreak at a food plant in Wrexham saw at least 70 people test positive.

Scientists have suggested that the cold air inside food processing factories could make people more susceptible to the virus, and that close working conditions and poor ventilation could increase the risk of infection. 

Mr Gething said there was no evidence outbreaks in the food factories had spilled over into the community.

Welsh health minister Vaughan Gething confirmed there was a ‘cluster’ of coronavirus cases at the Kepak meat processing factory in Merthyr Tydfil (pictured)

Mr Gething, MP for Cardiff South and Penarth, said this afternoon that there was a ‘developing situation’ in North Wales.

He said: ‘We have two confirmed coronavirus outbreaks, centred on two meat and food processing plants- one on Anglesey and one in Wrexham.

‘In addition, there is a small cluster of cases at a meat processing plant in Merthyr Tydfil.

‘I want to restate, that at the moment, there is no evidence of wider community transmission beyond these plants.’

He said that all the cases that have been found so far in the area have been linked directly to the factory, suggesting transmission has not made it into the community.

Wales has its own ‘Test, Trace, Protect’ system that works the same way as test and trace in England.   

Wales’s Firs Minister, Mark Drakeford, yesterday said the country could bring in its first local lockdown on Anglesey amid a Covid-19 outbreak at the 2 Sisters chicken factory.   

Nearly 160 staff tested positive for Covid-19, leading to the plant being closed and 560 staff and their families being sent into self-isolation.

Meanwhile a separate outbreak has been confirmed at Rowan Foods in Wrexham in the north of the country.

ARE MEAT AND FOOD FACTORIES HOTSPOTS FOR THE CORONAVIRUS? 

As news has emerged of food factories around the world experiencing outbreaks of Covid-19, experts have suggested conditions inside the plants may be conducive to the spread of the virus. 

Dr Simon Clarke, a cellular microbiologist at the University of Reading, told MailOnline that it was notable that food factories seemed to have been the centre of outbreaks more than other factories where people might be close together.

He said: ‘There are problems in this country, in Germany, in the United States. There is something common between them – it’s not happening in engineering or clothing factories where you also might expect people to be in close proximity to one another.

‘One assumes – but it’s just an idea – that the cold environment makes people more susceptible to the virus. 

‘Cold weather irritates the airways and the cells become more susceptible to viral infection.’ 

Dr Chris Smith, a virologist at the University of Cambridge, said on LBC ‘temperature is going to play a part’.

He explained: ‘When I’m breathing I’m blowing out droplets of moisture from my respiratory tract and the virus which is growing in there would be packaged up in the droplets. 

‘Now the droplets will hover for a period of time in the air and then sink to the ground… and if it’s very dry, cold air – and cold air carries less moisture, remember – the droplets will stay smaller and stay airborne for longer. 

‘If it’s very humid, moisture joins them, makes them bigger and heavier, and they fall and they drop out of circulation faster – so temperature could be a factor.’

Sunlight is also known to degrade viruses and make them less able to survive on surfaces that are exposed to UV light.

Rays of sunlight are thought to damage the genetic material inside the virus, making it less able to reproduce and killing it faster. 

Professor Calum Semple, a disease outbreak expert at the University of Liverpool, told The Telegraph that cold, sunless food factories are ideal conditions.

He said: ‘If I wanted to preserve a virus I would put it in a cold, dark environment or a cool environment that doesn’t have any ultraviolet light – essentially a fridge or a meat processing facility…

‘The perfect place to keep a virus alive for a long time is a cold place without sunlight.’ 

But the temperature alone does not appear to be a controlling factor in coronavirus outbreaks. 

Dr Michael Head, a global health researcher at the University of Southampton, said he thought close proximity was most likely to be behind the factory outbreaks.

He said: ‘Whilst refrigeration may be a contributory factor to the spread of the virus, the key factors are likely to be the number of people close together in indoor conditions. 

‘Some of these factories have onsite or nearby accommodation where there are several people in each dormitory, they may be transported on a bus to the site of work, and they will be indoors together all day.

‘Levels of adherence to measures such as washing hands is uncertain and there is unlikely to be widespread use of PPE.’ 

Mr Gething today said he wanted to reassure the public that cases of coronavirus are generally falling across Wales.

‘We have seen fewer than 100 cases each day in the first few weeks of June,’ he said.

‘There has been an increase over the weekend, which is probably related to these outbreaks.

‘These outbreaks reinforce the need for all of us to continue to take coronavirus very seriously – it has not gone away. There is no room for complacency.’ 

Outbreaks in meat processing plants appear to have become more common in recent weeks, with Germany and the United States also reporting them.

Experts say they are particularly at risk of virus outbreaks, in part because of the wintery conditions inside them.

Dr Simon Clarke, a cellular microbiologist at the University of Reading, told MailOnline that it was notable that food factories seemed to have been the centre of outbreaks more than other factories where people might be close together.

He said: ‘There are problems in this country, in Germany, in the United States. There is something common between them – it’s not happening in engineering or clothing factories where you also might expect people to be in close proximity to one another.

‘One assumes – but it’s just an idea – that the cold environment makes people more susceptible to the virus.’  

Whether this meant the winter would bring a resurgence of the virus, Dr Clarke said it was difficult to say because we have only seen the virus in action during spring in the UK. 

He added: ‘It’s not that viruses are better in the winter it’s that we’re more susceptible.

‘Cold weather irritates the airways and the cells become more susceptible to viral infection.’ 

Dr Chris Smith, a virologist at the University of Cambridge, said on LBC ‘temperature is going to play a part’.

He explained: ‘When I’m breathing I’m blowing out droplets of moisture from my respiratory tract and the virus which is growing in there would be packaged up in the droplets. 

‘Now the droplets will hover for a period of time in the air and then sink to the ground… and if it’s very dry, cold air – and cold air carries less moisture, remember – the droplets will stay smaller and stay airborne for longer. 

‘If it’s very humid, moisture joins them, makes them bigger and heavier, and they fall and they drop out of circulation faster – so temperature could be a factor.’

Sunlight is also known to degrade viruses and make them less able to survive on surfaces that are exposed to UV light.

Rays of sunlight are thought to damage the genetic material inside the virus, making it less able to reproduce and killing it faster. 

Professor Calum Semple, a disease outbreak expert at the University of Liverpool, told The Telegraph that cold, sunless food factories are ideal conditions.

He said: ‘If I wanted to preserve a virus I would put it in a cold, dark environment or a cool environment that doesn’t have any ultraviolet light – essentially a fridge or a meat processing facility…

‘The perfect place to keep a virus alive for a long time is a cold place without sunlight.’

This suggests winter could bring the perfect environment for the coronavirus to start spreading rapidly again and producing a second wave of infections in Britain.

The average temperature in January is 4.9°C (41°F) and there are eight hours of daylight, compared to an average 15°C (59°F) and 16 hours of daylight in June.  

But the weather alone does not appear to be a controlling factor in coronavirus outbreaks.

Dr Clarke said: ‘There are summer colds and there’s a coronavirus that causes summer colds, so it’s not a given.

‘We’ve heard a lot of people suggest that warmth and sunlight would rid us of the virus but it that were the case we wouldn’t have problems in Brazil or Florida or Singapore.’ 

Dr Michael Head, a global health researcher at the University of Southampton, said he thought close proximity was most likely to be behind the factory outbreaks.

He said: ‘Whilst refrigeration may be a contributory factor to the spread of the virus, the key factors are likely to be the number of people close together in indoor conditions. 

‘Some of these factories have onsite or nearby accommodation where there are several people in each dormitory, they may be transported on a bus to the site of work, and they will be indoors together all day.

‘Levels of adherence to measures such as washing hands is uncertain and there is unlikely to be widespread use of PPE.’

Read more at DailyMail.co.uk


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