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Coronavirus outbreak closes British meat-processing plant

LONDON (Reuters) - An outbreak of COVID-19 cases at a meat processer in northern England owned by British supermarket Asda has caused the plant to close temporarily, the Walmart-owned <WMT.N> retailer said on Friday.

Asda said it had been working with public health authorities to ensure staff were tested, and that while the factory in Cleckheaton, West Yorkshire had not been forced to shut, it had been closed as a precaution. It did not confirm how many cases had been found.

“As soon as we became aware that some colleagues at our Kober site may have Covid-19, we responded swiftly and worked collaboratively with the local authority and Public Health England to test all colleagues," a joint statement by Asda and Kober Limited, the firm which runs the plant, said.

The closure is the latest in a series of outbreaks linked to meat processing plants across Europe and the Americas. On Thursday, one of Britain's biggest food companies suspended production after more than 50 positive tests.

British trade union Unite said it had received reports of five more suspected outbreaks at different meat processing factories, without providing further details.

The union said employers had to do more to protect their staff, while academic experts outlined risks of working in a factory environment.

“Factories and, in particular, indoor areas which are cold and damp are perfect environments for coronavirus to linger and spread," said Lawrence Young, Professor of Molecular Oncology at the University of Warwick.

"The virus survives on cold surfaces and, in the absence of ventilation and sunlight, virus-containing droplets from infected individuals are more likely to spread, settle and stay viable."


(Reporting by William James; editing by Stephen Addison)