More than 100 coronavirus outbreaks a week across UK, Matt Hancock says

Seasonal workers locked down in farm as 'targeted action' pledged

Jon Stone
Policy Correspondent
Monday 13 July 2020 07:59 BST
Herefordshire farm in lockdown after 73 Covid-19 cases

More than 100 outbreaks of coronavirus are being "swiftly and silently" dealt with by local authorities around the country every week, Matt Hancock has said.

The Health Secretary on Sunday night pledged to "hunt down the virus" and said "more targeted local action" was being taken in lieu of national lockdown measures.

His comments come amid fears of a substantial localised outbreak on a farm in Herefordshire, where up to 200 seasonal workers housed in mobile homes and employed by A S Green and Co have been told to self-isolate.

Food and other essential supplies are being delivered to the farm by the local council, supported by Public Health England – while police were seen guarding the exits.

The government has also identified a list of 20 councils facing the worst local outbreaks, with Bradford, Sheffield and Kirklees identified as needing "enhanced support" according to an internal document reported by the Observer newspaper.

Officials are said to be considering releasing a top-10 ranking of local authorities to encourage action. Last month 164 workers at a meat factory in Kirklees tested positive for the virus, while a bed factory in the area was also closed following eight positive tests.

"Each week there are more than 100 local actions taken across the country - some of these will make the news, but many more are swiftly and silently dealt with," Mr Hancock wrote in an article for the Daily Telegraph newspaper.

"This is thanks in large part to the incredible efforts of local authorities - all of whom have stepped up and published their local outbreak control plans in line with the end of June deadline."

The government as been consistently criticised for exaggerating the number of tests it has the capacity to carry out, with the UK also lagging well behind other European and east-Asian countries.

But Mr Hancock claimed an increase in testing capacity meant "more targeted local action and less national lockdown". 21 people died from Covid-19 yesterday according to government figures, a low figure which is likely to increase again after a lull in reporting at the weekend.

The outbreaks at the farm in Herefordshire and the meat factory in Kirkless follow a similar pattern seen in many other developed countries of outbreaks building on the margins of society, such as among migrant workers and low income communities – where people may be forced to live in conditions where social distancing is difficult. In the US, meat-packing factories became an epicentre for outbreaks.

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