BROOKLYN sheep meat, goat and veal abattoir Cedar Meats is planning to resume operations on May 18, despite battling the biggest COVID-19 cluster in the nation.
Cedar Meats processes mutton, lamb, goats and calves for clients in the United States, the European Union and China.
“Our plan is to be open and operating on Monday 18 May, 2020,” Cedar Meats general manager Tony Kairouz told Sheep Central.
The re-opening of the plant is planned despite Victorian Treasurer Tim Pallas this morning announcing that another 11 of the state’s new COVID-19 cases confirmed overnight were linked to the meatworks.
The new cases bring the number of coronavirus cases associated with Cedar Meats to 45, and the state’s total to 1423.
Mr Pallas also announced $491 million in tax relief for businesses who are part of the Federal Government’s JobKeeper program. These Victorian businesses will be exempted from payroll tax and the WorkCover levy on JobKeeper payments to employees who aren’t working.
Have authorities traced the cluster’s source?
When asked if the source of the Cedar Meats infection had been traced, Mr Kairouz said: “This is not a matter for me to answer.”
Victorian Minister for Health Jenny Mikakos has also not disclosed if the infection’s source was known.
Mr Kairouz also said knowing how his first staff member was infected was “not a matter for me”.
“This is not a matter for me, we have been working with the Victorian Department of Health and Human Services, who have responsibility for tracking the transmission of the virus.”
“Since first finding out about COVID-19 we have been proactive about managing both the operational side of our business and providing our staff with the best information available to protect them in the workplace,” he said.
“Our policies and procedures for COVID-19 have been checked and approved by experts.”
Mr Kairouz also refused to confirm or deny if any Cedar Meats staff have been working shifts at other meatworks in Melbourne.
“That is not a matter for me to answer.”
Cedar Meats aware of first case on 27 April
In a statement yesterday, Mr Kairouz said Cedar Meats first became aware that one of its employees had contracted COVID-19, following an admission to Sunshine hospital for an unrelated matter on Monday 27 April, 2020.
“On Wednesday 29 April, 2020 we were informed that four of our staff had contracted COVID-19.
“All staff worked in one area of the plant,” Mr Kairouz said.
“Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) worked diligently to endeavour to arrange onsite testing for our 350 staff; however, it wasn’t possible and in the interests of time it was more efficient for staff to access nearby testing facilities.
“From the time we became aware that one of our staff had contracted the virus we had kept our staff closely informed,” Mr Kairouz said.
“By Thursday 30 April we mandated to all staff that they had to get tested for COVID-19.
“We worked closely with DHHS and by the end of the day Friday 1 May, all staff had been sent for testing.”
Mr Kairouz said yesterday the business’ focus has been “100 percent inward – on closing down the processing side of our business, taking care of staff and animal welfare.
“We have in no way sought not to be transparent with the Victorian community.”
Opposition leader criticises government transparency
However, Victorian Opposition leader Michael O’Brien yesterday criticised Premier Dan Andrews Minister for Health Jenny Mikakos and Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton for their refusal to identify the identity of the meatworks at the start of the outbreak.
He said “it beggars belief” that Victorians have been “kept in the dark” about where the coronavirus cluster has been emanating from.
“The government is quite happy to name primary schools, the government is quite happy to name hospital and aged care facilities, what is different about a meat-packing facility, other than the fact that they donated $15,000 to the state ALP,” he said.
“Daniel Andrews needs to explain why this one donor has been treated so differently to primary schools, hospitals and aged care facilities – it is just not good enough.”
Victoria’s chief health officer Professor Brett Sutton said yesterday it has always been the case that if the government needed people in the community to understand whether they might have been exposed to a cluster or an outbreak of cases, “that we identify those sites.”
“If we are following up everyone we have the names and contact details of everyone in a site and we are not concerned about the general community being exposed, then there is no specific public health reason to name those places.”
On Sunday, Ms Mikakos said it has been the policy of Victoria’s Health Department to only identify the location of an outbreak if there is a significant health risk.
“In this case, the assessment has been made by the public health team that there is no need to identify this location, but if that was to change, if that advice was to change, or if there was another outbreak elsewhere, and the advice was different, I wouldn’t hesitate at all to name the location.”