A Herefordshire farm has gone into lockdown after 73 workers tested positive for coronavirus, sparking fears the harvest season could fuel further outbreaks.
Around 200 staff at AS Green and Co, which supplies Marks & Spencer, Sainsbury’s Aldi and Asda, will spend the next two weeks isolated in temporary mobile home accommodation in a bid to control the spread.
Last night Public Health England (PHE) described the outbreak on the family-owned farm at Mathon near Malvern as the first of its kind.
It comes as tens of thousands of seasonal farm hands congregate across the country as the harvest season gets into full swing.
Contacts between farms and their local communities are likely to be higher than usual this summer because travel restrictions have forced farmers to rely more heavily on local labour, rather than foreign workers.
Widescale testing on the Herefordshire farm was introduced early last week after a handful of staff developed symptoms of Covid-19.
Local officials said initial results showed “a significant percentage of positive cases, despite these individuals being asymptomatic”.
The situation follows a spate of outbreaks in meat plants.
Although a warm outdoor environment is believed to hamper the spread of Covid-19, as at AS Green and Co, many temporary farm workers spend the season in shared accommodation.
The workers will now have to remain “bubbled” on the farm for the isolation period, with staff from the local council shipping in food and other supplies.
The business, which produces tenderstem broccoli as well as broad, runner and helda beans, has issued a statement stressing PHE advice that the virus is “very unlikely” to be transmitted through food or food packaging.
Katie Spence, PHE Midlands Health Protection Director, said: “At this phase of the pandemic, we still expect to see cases in the community and within settings where people are closer together, such as workplaces, which is why the Test and Trace system is important, to help us pick up on any potential problems and swiftly to take remedial action to reduce spread.”
She added: “We are still awaiting a few final results, but currently we have 73 positive cases of COVID-19 among the workforce.”