A COVID-19 outbreak linked to major Victorian abattoir JBS Brooklyn has tripled in size this week, as state authorities battle a wave of infections in businesses, aged care facilities and the community.
The Department of Health and Human Services and a company spokesman confirmed the JBS Australia Brooklyn plant remained closed this week and abattoir workers were being tested for COVID-19.
Up to last night, seven COVID-19 cases had been confirmed among JBS Brooklyn workers, including two yesterday. However, the state’s chief medical officer Dr Brett Sutton said today there are now 21 cases linked to the abattoir, among 238 new cases in Victoria. These took the state’s case total to 4448.
All staff at the JBS plant have been asked to undergo testing and a spokesman said staff were being tested at the company’s cost and awaiting results.
Professor Sutton said JBS Brooklyn was among the workplace and aged care facility outbreaks that the DHHS is “totally focused on.”
“We know it is a risk setting and we know that people are largely bringing virus in, probably unawares, as staff members.
“So they need to have an absolute focus on the very very first mild symptoms to exclude themselves from those settings, including thinking about whether there is illness in their family prior to them having any symptoms at all,” he said.
Professor Sutton said from a prevention view in abattoirs, he knew that WorkSafe and third party auditors from the Commonwealth have gone through a really extensive process of review to try to minimise the risk.
“Because we know that they can have really really extensive outbreaks, up to 2000 people have been infected in some outbreaks internationally, so everyone needs to keep on it in terms of managing the risk there.”
Nearby Tottenham lamb, beef and pork packer Somerville Retail Services has also been linked to 14 COVID-19 cases up to yesterday, according to the department. However, the Australasian Meat Industry Employees Union told Sheep Central today SRS workers told the AMIEU 14 SRS employees have contracted the virus. No update on the company’s COVID-19 status was received from the DHHS today and the company did not respond to a request for comment. The AMIEU has issued advice for Somerville Retail Services employees who have contracted COVID-19 – click here.
The DHHS said a single case of COVID-19 was confirmed at the Pacific Meat Sales boning room in Thomastown, but this was unlikely to have been acquired at the site. The facility was closed temporarily, but has since re-opened and all staff have been asked to undergo testing.
The DHHS said it is working with the meat processing facilities to minimise risks of further infection, including deep cleans, contact tracing, and isolation of close contacts.
United Workers Union director of logistics Matt Toner, who represents JBS Brooklyn cold storage employees, said he is trying to negotiate pay for the workers while workers undergo COVID-19 testing and are in isolation.
“Our understanding is they (JBS Brooklyn) will be closed this week, the employer has told us.
“We don’t have confirmation …. but it may be closed longer.”
Mr Toner said the 120 workers had been stood down without pay, which would be devastating for them.
“We’ve been told by the company that they will be stood down without pay.
“We think that that is a very short-sighted position,” he said.
“Because if they are not going to pay people to be isolated, there is going to be a financial incentive for them to rush back to work and then that could potentially lead to more COVID-19 outbreaks and another site closure.”
He said the company also told him the daily hire processing workers would also not be paid.