Law forcing Greencore workers to self-isolate has come into force — days after most finish self-isolating

Health secretary's regulations threatens fines for anyone not following stay-at-home orders

Tuesday, 1st September 2020, 12:00 pm
Updated Tuesday, 1st September 2020, 12:04 pm

New laws forcing Greencore employees to self-isolate for two weeks came into force on Saturday — 16 days AFTER nearly 300 positive Covid-19 tests at the Northampton factory were revealed.

The bill laid before Parliament states: "These Regulations are made in response to the serious and imminent threat to public health which is posed by the incidence and spread of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARSCoV-2) in England."

Authorities can issue a £100 fine if a Greencore worker "leaves the place they are self-isolating before the 14 day period is over" or £1,000 to any person who "willfully obstructs" police officers enforcing the law.

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Public Health officials confirmed an outbreak at the M&S sandwich maker back on August 13 and ordered all 2,100 workers to stay at home.

Health secretary Matt Hancock stepped in to shut the factory in Moulton Park eight days after seeing 37 more cases among 800-plus who were being given second tests.

But all the 287 cases confirmed on August 13 plus another 1,800 unaffected employees could have been be back at work by the time legislation carrying up to £1,000 fines for breaking self-isolation finally hit the statute books on Saturday (August 29).

A spokesman for the Health Department said on August 23: "Local councils already have plans in place to respond to Covid-19 and, as always has been the case, a specialist team from the local authority or Public Health England manages any local outbreaks.

Matt Hancock's regulations came into force on Saturday

“The decision to make Northampton an area of intervention was taken by the Secretary of State, in line with the Contain Framework, as he will introduce regulations to ensure that the requirement of employees and their direct households to self-isolate following the closure is legally enforced.

"Anyone who leaves isolation prior to the two-week period ending without reasonable excuse will be subject to fines.”

Officials were first alerted to the outbreak after swabs from 79 workers tested positive during a period of three of four weeks.

Greencore launched a private testing programme of all 2,100 workers which revealed a further 213 positive tests. The overall figure of 292 was later revised down to 287 after duplicates were identified.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock ordered the Greencore factory to close on August 21. Photo: Getty Images

Mr Hancock immediately declared Northampton an "area of intervention" and closed the factory on August 21 after seeing initial results from a further 834 retests and promised to bring in regulations forcing those affected to self-isolate.

The factory was deep cleaned over a weekend and unaffected workers plus those who had completed self-isolation started back at work last Tuesday (August 25).

A spokesman for the company said: “As a precautionary measure, we retested colleagues who previously tested negative. All of these tests took place before we ceased production on August 21.

"We are deeply aware that this is an exceptionally challenging time for everyone connected with the site, and we are working hard to keep our colleagues safe, and provide support to those who are unwell.”

Public Health officials revealed 287 Covid-19 cases at Greencore on August 13

“While production had ceased, the site has undergone a thorough deep-cleaning process. A small number of colleagues who have completed their self-isolation periods are now returning to the site and production is therefore gradually restarting on a limited basis.

"This process is of course being carried out in close consultation with the Department of Health & Social Care, Public Health England and other government bodies.”

Public Health officials believe the outbreak stemmed for workers sharing accommodation and driving to work together with 16 incidents of between two and four people living in houses in multiple occupation (HMOs) testing positive.

Northamptonshire's Public Health Director Lucy Wightman confirmed at a briefing on Friday that two of the 312 cases at Greencore were from residents outside Northamptonshire.

It was also revealed that local experts are dealing with nine outbreaks involving two or more cases at workplaces across Northamptonshire.