BANHAM POULTRY workers are returning to their posts after isolation periods end, prompting hopes that the processing plant will soon return to capacity.

On-farm culling has continued this week as the firm continues to operate a skeleton staff.

In total, 127 workers out of 735 staff at the plant have tested positive for coronavirus.

See also: Bacteria sprayed on farm helps reduce ammonia levels

A further 1,860 tests have been conducted in the wider community in connection with this outbreak, with five household members identified as positive cases.

Norfolk’s director of public health, Louise Smith, said the latest figures painted “an encouraging picture”.

“They show only a very small rise in numbers of infections of workers from the factory and a steadily reducing average number of weekly cases across the county.

Steadily reducing

“Excluding the known Banham Poultry worker cases, the seven-day average incidence is 6.2 cases per 100,000 across Norfolk.

“The overall seven-day average daily number of cases, including Banham Poultry outbreak, in Norfolk is 8.7, which is steadily reducing from a peak of 18.3 at the height of the Banham Poultry outbreak.”

It has been agreed that 108 staff can return to work at the plant. Most staff were asked to self-isolate on 30 August, so will return next week.

Broilers on farm

The closure of Banham’s cutting room resulted in a backlog of birds ready to be slaughtered with no capacity to do so. They were ultimately culled on farm.

Late last week Banham was able to bring in agency workers to maintain a “skeleton staff” to keep birds moving through the supply chain, but the threat of further on-farm culling remained.

The British Poultry Council has called for support in keeping slaughterhouses open, given there is little spare capacity in the sector.

Spare capcity

“The UK rears and slaughters around 20 million birds every week (over 95% of these are chickens) with the majority being processed through a small number of large premises (each with a capacity of 2 million+ birds per week), BPC chief executive Richard Griffiths said.

“As an efficient sector, there is very little spare capacity when a large slaughterhouse is forced to shut down.”