Brazil: Covid-19 cases spike among processing plant workers

29-05-2020 | | | |
During closure of Brazilian processing plants meat had to be discarded. Photo: Jan Willem Schouten
During closure of Brazilian processing plants meat had to be discarded. Photo: Jan Willem Schouten

Processing facilities in the Brazilian states of Rio Grande do Sul, Santa Catarina and Paraná are being hit hard by a spike in the cases of coronavirus. Together these states account for almost 70% of poultry and 65% of pork production in the country.

The situation looks the most serious in Rio Grande do Sul, the southest state in Brazil. According to the State Health Department (SES) epidemiological bulletin released last week, there are 30 outbreaks in the industry, 18 of them are concentrated in slaughterhouses. Altogether, animal production facilities now have 528 workers who tested positive for Covid-19. Another 2,595 have flu-like symptoms and are considered suspect. With almost 30,000 people working in the industry, the potential virus spread is huge.

Poultry meat discarded

Closures of plants are usually short, but not without consequences. The Public Ministry ordered 2 poultry plants at Lajeado city to close at first, but the plants returned to work this week. During the closure both BRF´s poultry producers had to discard 100,000 animals. In Passo Fundo city, a JBS chicken´s unit was also affected by corona and closed. This plant resumed operations last Wednesday.

Corona positive cases in processing plants

For health department SES, the large number of infections in those facilities “can be explained by the specifics related to work in these environments. Workers carry out activities very close to each other, the workspace is in a confined area and social distancing was not actively enforced in Brazil”. In Santa Catarina state, there are at least 300 corona positive cases in 5 different slaughterhouses in the municipalities of Ipumirim, Nova Veneza, Forquilinha, Concórdia and Chapecó. In Paraná, Frimesa had to reduce pork production by 20% while GTFoods had to suspend its operations on poultry production during 14 days. Further cases were identified among at least 42 facilities in other Brazilian states.

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Virus protocol

The ABPA (Brazilian Animal Protein Association) president, Francisco Turra, said that poultry, pig and egg sectors were prepared to face a “war”. “During 30 days, no case was confirmed among 200 slaughterhouses we work with, with 500,000 workers, all over the country,” he said to a local radio. According to him, the national prevention protocol in agro-industries has been strengthened to avoid more drastic consequences in plants. “It is a hard and serious moment, but we must take responsibility to assure workers health,” emphasized Francisco Turra. Brazil already had a virus protocol published on worker safety at slaughterhouses on March 31st, but in the upcoming days a new, more strict protocol will be implemented.The ministries of Agriculture, Health and Economy, and virus specialists are involved in writing the new protocol with rules for the sector.

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Daniel Azevedo Freelance journalist Brazil