Up to 200 workers have been asked to stay on-site during a two-week isolation period at a farm in Herefordshire, following 73 confirmed cases of Covid-19 among the workforce.

The workers were involved in the picking and packing of tenderstem broccoli and several varieties of beans at A.S. Green and Co., based in Mathon, near Malvern.

Herefordshire Council is working with Public Health England (PHE) Midlands to support the firm.

During the harvest, the workforce resides in mobile homes based on the farm, so as a precaution, the whole group are being treated as one 'extended bubble'.

Workers are being asked to remain on the farm during the period of isolation and stay within household groups, to reduce risk of spread within the workforce and into the wider community.

The council has arranged food and essential supplies to be delivered on-site.

PHE Midlands health protection director Katie Spence said: “We are working closely with the management at A.S. Green and Co. to support the health and wellbeing of their workforce and wider public health.

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.

“To support this workforce of around 200 key workers, the company has put in place a range of infection control measures to try to reduce the risk of staff being exposed to Covid-19."

Measures include:

  • On-site testing;
  • Promoting social distancing in communal social areas and in the indoor packaging area;
  • Providing PPE where applicable;
  • Encouraging regular handwashing for at least 20 seconds; and
  • Promoting the use of face coverings in closed areas.

Spence explained that the entire workforce had now been tested for the disease.

“Despite these measures, a small number of workers became symptomatic earlier this week and they and a few close contacts among the workforce were tested initially and found to be positive," she said.

"In line with NHS guidance, affected individuals were asked to self-isolate for seven days, with their households and close contacts asked to isolate for 14 days.

“As we have seen a global trend of large food producers being subject to outbreaks, as a precautionary measure, the decision was made to test the entire workforce.

The initial batch of results showed a significant percentage of positive cases, despite these individuals being asymptomatic. We are still awaiting a few final results, but currently, we have 73 positive cases of COVID-19 among the workforce.

Karen Wright, director of Public Health for Herefordshire, added: “While Herefordshire is the first to experience an outbreak of this kind, this is not unexpected.

"Our priority is to protect the health and well-being of all residents in our community. Prompt testing on the farm has allowed us to understand transmission and control the spread of infection.

"We continue to support the farm management, their workers – who form an important part of our local economy, and the local community through this challenging time."

A spokesman for AS Green read: "We confirm that we are working closely with, Public Health England and the Public Health team at Herefordshire Council to support a number of our workers that have tested positive for Covid-19.

"As a precautionary measure, we have arranged for testing of additional key workers including management team members and visitors connected with A.S. Green and can confirm all results to-date outside of our site have been returned with negative results. Currently, there are 73 positive cases on our site.

Our site is currently closed for all visitors, and, with the assistance of the various bodies, no workers are being permitted to leave our site and are receiving the required support at our site.

"Our workforce and local community are our priority at this difficult time and we continue to follow the guidance of the relevant bodies to ensure that the spread of the virus is controlled and our workforce is supported.

"Public Health England advises that it is very unlikely Covid-19 can be transmitted through food or food packaging, so shoppers can remain confident buying British fruit and veg."