Coronavirus: Cases rise at Newark Bakkavor dessert factory

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Testing genericImage source, Reuters
Image caption,
Nottinghamshire County Council said 1,130 staff members at Bakkavor in Newark have been tested

Coronavirus cases at a dessert factory testing its entire workforce have risen to more than 70.

Some 1,600 staff at Bakkavor in Newark, Nottinghamshire, are undergoing testing.

So far 1,130 have been checked, with 74 confirmed cases, Nottinghamshire County Council said, while 33 people have been able to return to work.

The company, which makes desserts for Waitrose and Tesco, said it "understood the importance of the testing".

Image caption,
Bakkavor said it had communicated to staff the dangers of car sharing and the need for social distancing

Richard Wiles, from Collingham, who works next to the site, told the BBC the outbreak did not come as a surprise.

"The workers have been upset for quite a while that they don't think enough has been done to protect them," he said.

"People here are somewhere between baffled and very angry because when there have been outbreaks at food plants elsewhere, they have been closed instantly.

"It seems there has been a slow, modern British response to this and cakes have come before Covid safety."

The council had previously said the entire workforce would be tested after the number of positive cases increased from 20 to 39.

Staff from other areas of the business have been seconded to help upload the details into the NHS portal.

Analysis - Daniel Wainwright, BBC England Data Unit

Throughout most of July new cases of coronavirus in Newark and Sherwood were low, but they have risen in recent weeks.

The district was added to the government's hotspot watch list last week and a testing site for members of the public was set up at the district council building after a spike in cases.

In the week to Thursday 13 August there were 39 cases, equivalent to nearly 32 per 100,000 population. Across England overall in the same week the rate was just under 12 per 100,000.

Ten cases were people living in the Newark North area, which is also where the Bakkavor dessert factory is located, with a further 10 in Balderton.

However, some of the 74 cases so far confirmed at Bakkavor may not yet be reflected in the official data, which is updated daily as more test results come back.

Newark and Sherwood's weekly infection rate per 100,000 people has risen from 26.1 up to 6 August to 31.9 up to 13 August.

Jonathan Gribbin, director of public health at Nottinghamshire County Council, said closing the factory with 1,600 staff depending on it for their livelihoods, was not something they wanted to do.

"Reports from the Health and Safety Executive and environmental health colleagues indicates there are a really good set of controls in place within the factory," he said.

"So [closing it] would be quite a radical thing to do, not something we would want to bring forward at this point and certainly not before we have followed through on every other possible avenue, including finishing off on this whole workplace testing."

He added: "We know that not all the cases in Newark are linked to Bakkavor so it is vital that people continue to follow the strict guidance to prevent the transmission of Covid-19 across the whole community."

Shona Taylor, from Bakkavor, said: "The [testing] programme has been positively received, and colleagues have been supportive and reassured that every effort is being taken to ensure their safety."

At the Bakkavor bakery in Devizes, last week it was confirmed the number of positive tests had risen to 15 from seven the week before.

Wiltshire Council has confirmed the number of cases there has not changed.

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