VICTORIAN Health Minister Jenny Mikakos has confirmed Australia’s first COVID-19 outbreak in a meat processing plant.
At a media conference on Saturday morning, Ms Mikakos said three of the state’s seven new coronavirus cases since Friday had been reported at the Victorian meat processing plant, which she refused to name. The plant has been temporarily closed since Friday.
The state government confirmed that 19 of 22 new COVID-19 cases detected in Victoria since Saturday were linked to the Cedar Meats plant.
In Saturday morning’s briefing, Ms Mikakos said the cases reported overnight bring the number of confirmed cases among the facility’s staff to eight. She said testing of the plant’s staff is being conducted.
“Contact tracing of any confirmed cases is occurring as well and the business has now been closed and is being thoroughly cleaned.
“I’m also advised that there are no current concerns about food safety,” she said.
“DHHS is working closely with Agriculture Victoria, as well as PrimeSafe on issues related to the processing of animals.”
Ms Mikakos said the government would not be providing the name of the meat processing facility.
“The department’s policy is to provide the details if they believe that there is a public health risk.
“All the staff have been tested, all the close contacts have been followed up by the department’s public health team, there is no need to name the facility.”
Australian Meat Industry Council chief executive officer Patrick Hutchinson confirmed that the affected facility was a mixed species – beef and sheep — plant, but he also declined to name it.
He confirmed that the COVID-19 cluster at the plant was the first in an Australian meat processing facility.
To manage COVID-19 risk, Mr Hutchinson said Australian meat processing facilities have been restructuring shift teams within departments, doing mandatory temperature checking, managing mealtime processes and banning visitors deemed non-essential.
Plants have also increased “100 percent” the leading manufacturing systems in place in meat processing plants for sterilisation, sanitation and microbiological management, he said.
Referring to the multiple plant closures overseas due to the coronavirus, Mr Hutchinson said the Australian industry has been able manage exceptionally well with a very large workforce during the pandemic, “but inevitably these things can occur”.
“I think that what we’ve shown is that for a manufacturing industry that we’ve continued to have the faith of the health ministers, we have the faith of the ag ministers and all their secretaries and department, both state and federal.
“And inevitably an issue like this had potential to occur on sheer mathematics,” he said.
“I think more importantly what this is show is that as an industry we have tackled this and we have managed this exceptionally well.
“You’ve only got to look overseas and places like that to see what not to do.”
Mr Hutchinson said noted that this has occurred after the flattening of the curve and nearing the end of the isolation restrictions.
“To have this happening at the end and not at the beginning and not the height of the COVID-19 outbreak in Australia just shows that our industry has done an exceptional job.”
Mr Hutchinson did not believe that there was now a risk of tighter COVID-19 restrictions on the nation’s meat processing sector. He said there is no transmission through food.
“This is not a food issue, this is a human health issue.”
Ms Mikakos urged Victorians to continue to observe the state’s COVID-19 restrictions and if unwell to stay at home and get medical advice. She said anyone exhibiting symptoms to get tested. The seven new COVID-19 cases since yesterday bring Victoria’s total to 1371.