Posted: Fri 26th Jun 2020

“Perverse” situation could see workers ‘reluctant to come forward’ for testing ‘because of the financial consequences’ for people living in or visiting the wrexham area
This article is old - Published: Friday, Jun 26th, 2020

The First Minister has said there could be cases where people have not come forward for testing due to the financial impact such a test could have on them, or their families.

This morning Health Minister Vaughan Gething answered questions to media in North Wales ahead of First Minister Mark Drakeford taking the daily Welsh Goverment briefing. as is usual took that opportunity, and put forward questions related to the local outbreak.

The First Minister announced that the current total of confirmed coronavirus cases linked to the outbreak in Wrexham stands at 166. The factory remains open and operational at this time.

First Minister Drakeford said the outbreaks in Wrexham and Llangefni are a “sobering reminder that coronavirus has not gone away.”

At lunchtime we pointed the First Minister to comments he made last week where he said he had spoken with a union regarding the Rowan Foods site.

We noted the statement this week where Unite the Union said they were ‘extremely concerned’, and went as far as saying workers are frightened for their own families safety. We asked the First Minister if he was aware of that latest statement, and what had changed in a week.

Mr Drakeford said: “I spoke again to Unite yesterday and know of their concerns of course and the actions they are taking as a union

“It is why we were determined that the advice that we will publish later this afternoon was jointly created with our trade union colleagues as well as the regulators.

“The Health and Safety Executive was in Rowan Foods yesterday. I made it clear that the Outbreak Control Team must take the views of union members at that factory seriously, because if you want to understand what is happening on the factory floor, then the representatives of the workers who are there need to be heard and need to be part of the intelligence that the Outbreak Control Team bring together

“I was very grateful for the opportunity to discuss again with Unite national leaders their concerns about the plant, and to make it clear to them I would be insisting that the people on the ground responsible for the outbreak make the views of union members central to the way they are understanding this outbreak”.

In a meeting of the Town Centre Forum earlier today Wrexham’s MS Lesley Griffiths also gave an update on the Rowan Foods outbreak. We pointed the to example of balance needed on keeping factories open, and asked a wider question over if a factory closes who pays for staff who are not sick. There appears to be concerns around staff who could seek alternative employment, and therefore possibly widen a spread of the virus unknowingly.

We asked if there were any plans for direct economic support in such situations so finance is taken out of public health questions ?

The First Minister replied: “I intend to write to the Prime Minister today on this point because I think there is something important that we can contribute to from the experience we have had in North Wales to the national debate.

“What we do not want is for people to feel pressurised to take actions that they know are not the right ones for themselves or others because they are fearful of the financial consequences of coming forward to be tested, and then have to isolate and other people they are associated with then having to isolate for 14 days.”

“There are at least two ways I will suggest to the Prime Minister that that could be resolved.

“First of all UK Government could simply extend its furlough scheme in these circumstances. Millions of people have benefited from the furlough scheme. In a marginal sense in cost it would not cost very much at all to be able to say to people in the context as we have seen in North Wales that if you end up having to self isolate, your wages will be paid by the government during that period and you have no reason financially not to come forward”

“Or, we could simply make it obligatory on employers to come forward and cover those costs for that period.

“We are discovering there may be some individuals who knew that they should have had a test but were reluctant to come forward because the financial consequences would be so difficult for them and their families.”

“That is perverse and nobody wants that to happen, and there are ways in which it can be tackled and I’ll be writing to the Prime Minister to suggest them this afternoon. ”

Health Minister Vaughan Gething, who took questions earlier this morning.

This morning we conveyed to the Health Minister the surprise of many local people that the Rowan Foods factory remains open, and asked at what point it would be reasonable to expect it to be closed?

Mr Gething said: “We are working with a range of the different regulators here, there’s a Food Standards Agency that look at the animal welfare and food hygiene issues.

“Then of course you have the Health and Safety Executive who are interested in safe systems of work. There is a blurred line in terms of the public health issues and health and safety issues.”

“If the operation of the plant amounts to a health and safety threat for workers, that’s obviously an issue, so things like social distancing, difficult challenges, like the way that these food plants sometimes operate in normal time to keep people safe can actually be a challenge with Coronavirus.

“We have had a team go in to inspect the business. We will have that report, then will have a conversation with the employer, the health service, the Health and Safety Executive and the Food Standards Agency. We will also be talking to the trade union side to get a broad picture of intelligence around what’s happening.

“If it’s clear that the right thing to do from a public health point of view, to ask that business to close, we’ll do that. If that request doesn’t go ahead, then we’ve got powers to close this, or any other business. So we’re not looking to go after Rowan Foods, and we’re not at a point where we’d say that there’s any blame attaching to this, far from it.”

“It’s the reality for any business that may be affected and what we might need to do to protect the business, and the business’s employees and workers, but also the wider community in which they operate in.”

Earlier this week in answer to our question on the outbreak the Health Minister pointed to some language issues on getting across key messaging.

Yesterday saw the publication of a range of posters in different languages from Albanian to Urdu on the Welsh Government website explaining the Track Trace Protect (TTP) system and other information.

Today we asked the Health Minister if that information should have been in place at the start of the TTP system, and what work is being done to solve the language issues, and how that is being tackled without triggering social tensions.

The Health Minister said: “There are a range of challenges in there. We started a wholly new system in a matter of weeks, and we’ve got that up and running in English and Welsh and we always knew we’d have to have more languages available.

“We have got a range of other community languages available, and European languages in particular, so there’s a range of information that should now be available to go out.”

“The business themselves knowing they’ve got the workforce from different parts of Europe are used to having to communicate with their own workforce in a variety of means.

“So we’re not starting from ground zero in that sense, if we could always do things quicker then I’d always want to. But actually, it was a real significant challenge to get us up and running in the period of time we had. I think people in Wales should be really proud of what our Test Trace Protect service has managed to do so quickly,

“If we didn’t have that service, then these outbreaks would have been more significant before we’d been able to act and intervene. That would have been a much bigger impact on the local community.”

“We touched earlier on some people were would be concerned about the pictures from Bournemouth, other people that were thirsting to get out and do more things.

“There are businesses that are desperately worried about whether they’ll still be in business, for them to operate. So there’s got to be a balance in what we do. That underpins the approach that we’re taking. So the messaging should be reassuring for both the wider community about impact on the effectiveness of the Test, Trace, Protect service, and reinforce to everyone please follow the advice. It’s for your benefit, and for everyone else.”

Public Health Wales gave their promised update this afternoon, confirming the 166 figure, and Dr Robin Howe, Incident Director for the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak response at Public Health Wales, said: “Testing of the workforce associated with an outbreak of Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) in the Wrexham area is continuing.

“We are in the process of combining information to identify the full scope of the ongoing testing process and total number of positive cases. To date a total of 166 cases have been identified, an increase of 69 cases reported in the past 24-hours.

“The identification of additional cases does not mean that the infection is increasing. However, it also reminds us that COVID-19 has not gone away and remains in the community.

“Rapid contact tracing also continues, and as expected, is identifying additional cases associated with the workforce.

“There is no evidence that the employer is the source of the infection, but we continue to review the situation and work with our multi-agency partners, the employer, their workforce and wider community to bring this outbreak to a swift conclusion.”

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