A London, Ont., meat-processing plant with 900 employees has been shut down temporarily to deal with a growing COVID-19 outbreak, with the number of active cases now at 82.
The Cargill plant, which processes poultry, was closed for 14 days effective immediately as a precaution, authorities said.
A company spokesperson said the number of active cases involving employees is now at 82. A handful of cases was first reported about two weeks ago.
“As we continue to prioritize the health and safety of Cargill employees, we have decided to temporarily idle our London protein facility,” said plant manager Derek Hill.
“This was a difficult decision for our team who are operating an essential service, and are committed to delivering food for families across Canada and ensuring the resilience of our supply chain. But ultimately, our employees’ safety and well-being come first.”
Hill said the plant will work to safely get it back to normal operations.
The company is implementing “extensive safety protocols” and working closely with local health officials, particularly to get workers vaccinated as soon as possible.
“Getting people home and into quarantine is critical,” said Dr. Alex Summers, associate medical officer of health for Middlesex-London Health Unit. He called the shutdown “an absolutely essential step that needed to happen.”
A Cargill meat-packing plant in Alberta — which has about 2,000 employees and processes around a third of Canada’s processed beef supply — once had North America’s largest COVID-19 outbreak linked to a single site. It now hosts a vaccination clinic.
Summers said food-processing plant workers being in close proximity is likely one factor contributing to virus spread. In the case of the London plant, social interactions among workers that took place outside the facility may have also contributed, he said.
In Ontario, the company said it’s working with local officials and the union representing workers to vaccinate employees.
“We want to ensure we are prepared to support public health” and help workers receive vaccinations in a timely manner “without jeopardizing the prioritization of essential health-care workers.”
“We do think [workers’] health and safety needs to be the number one priority,” said Tim Deelstra, a spokesperson for UFCW Local 175 and 633, which represents more than 700 workers at the plant.
“That’s why, as a union, since vaccines were available, we’ve been calling on the provincial government for the public health units to prioritize these essential frontline workers for access to a vaccine. And this is a perfect example of why.”
Employees will get a weekly guarantee of 36 hours of pay per week.
The company said it has put in place a number of safety measures at the facility, including:
- Temperature testing.
- Enhanced cleaning and sanitizing.
- Use of face coverings.
- Social distancing where possible.