Finnebrogue Artisan calls for regular Covid testing for food workers
A food manufacturer has called for regular Covid-19 testing for food production workers.
Denis Lynn, chairman of Finnebrogue Artisan, claimed a lack of regular testing represented a "failure to provide the coronavirus defence our fantastic food heroes deserve".
He has written to Robin Swann to appeal to him to replicate a testing programme for food production workers in England.
Food factories around the world appear to have been particularly vulnerable to outbreaks of coronavirus in recent weeks.
Experts say high numbers of foreign national workers who tend to live together in large groups and close proximity, as well as the inability of some factories to enforce social distancing, has led to outbreaks.
The British government has responded by introducing a targeted asymptomatic testing exercise in English food facilities - but Northern Ireland has not brought in such a measure.
Finnebrogue Artisan, which employs 850 people at its base in Downpatrick, said it has introduced a comprehensive Covid action plan as part of an investment in excess of £1 million to keep staff safe.
The company provided protective masks from the outset, introduced daily pre-shift health-screening, installed perspex dividers on production lines, enforced social distancing with marshals on factory floors and provided free sandwiches to workers on a daily basis.
They have also paid £1 an hour bonuses to all employees who adhered to social distancing guidelines..
But Mr Lynn is now calling for regular testing for staff to stop outbreaks early.
In a letter to Mr Swann, he wrote: "Food production staff have stepped up, performed an essential national service and deserve all of our gratitude.
"But more than just warm words, they deserve to be defended from the virus - and it is our duty to do everything we possibly can to do just that.
"Regular testing for key food production workers will be the key to spotting outbreaks early and stopping them spreading.
"We must now capitalise on the work you and your team have done to ramp up testing capacity and use it in a positive, preventative way.
"It is my understanding that the UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock is rolling out regular testing for English food workers imminently given the multitude of difficulties English food production facilities have faced in recent weeks.
"If Northern Ireland does not take similar action, we will have failed to deliver the coronavirus defence our fantastic food heroes deserve."