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Cargill idles meat plant in Guelph, Ont., following COVID-19 outbreak

GUELPH, Ont. — A meat-processing plant in Guelph, Ont., is temporarily closing following a COVID-19 outbreak. The Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph public health unit said on Thursday that at least 82 people at the Cargill plant have tested positive.

GUELPH, Ont. — A meat-processing plant in Guelph, Ont., is temporarily closing following a COVID-19 outbreak.

The Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph public health unit said on Thursday that at least 82 people at the Cargill plant have tested positive. 

About 130 workers, both positive cases and close contacts, are self-isolating, it said.

“I want to thank Cargill for their complete participation in containing this outbreak,” said Dr. Matthew Tenenbaum, the region's associate medical officer of health. “As cases rise in our region, we will be at more risk for outbreaks. 

"That’s why we must do all we can to keep cases low and respond quickly to any outbreaks.”

The plant's idling process began on Thursday but to prevent food waste, Cargill said it will process the nearly 1.55 million-meals-worth of meat currently in the facility before completely shutting down. 

Cargill said it's encouraging other employees at the 1,000-worker facility to get tested.

"This was a difficult decision for our team who are operating an essential service and are committed to delivering food for local families and access to markets for farmers and ranchers," said Jon Nash, North American leader of Cargill's protein division. 

"Our focus now is on continuing to keep our employees safe and getting our facility back to normal operations."

Cargill also said employees will be paid for 36 hours per week during the shutdown, as outlined in its collective agreement.

Public health officials said the risk of transmission to the community is small but serious, and it is following up with cases and contact tracing.

Several meat packing plants across Canada have been hit by major COVID-19 outbreaks.

A $77.5-million emergency fund was announced by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in May to help food processors adapt to new safety protocols, including acquiring more protective equipment for workers.

The funding was also supposed to help upgrade and reopen meat facilities shuttered due to outbreaks of the novel coronavirus.

The government approved 32 projects worth $10.5 million in September, including nearly $805,000 to JBS Food Canada for its meat processing plant at Brooks, Alta., and $1.8 million for Maple Leaf Foods operations in Ontario.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 18, 2020.

The Canadian Press