June 19, 2020 / 8:29 PM / 17 days ago

Brazil issues new guidelines for meatpackers as coronavirus pandemic ravages plants

SAO PAULO, June 19 (Reuters) - The Brazilian government on Friday published new guidelines for meatpackers after a spike of COVID-19 cases at food plants, including keeping workers at least one meter apart, but labor prosecutors criticized the steps as inadequate.

No testing is required under the ministry of agriculture’s new rules, which were issued after consultations with the labor prosecutor’s office.

A prosecutors’ representative said the guidelines ignored key recommendations made by the office that specified minimum distancing of 1.5 meters between workers in common areas of the plant, as well as mass testing.

The prosecutors’ recommendations also addressed the quality of face masks required for use, physical distancing and testing protocols.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended that meatpacking workers be spaced at least six feet (two meters) apart.

In addition to distancing employees, Brazil’s ministry of agriculture said companies should also monitor those with coronavirus symptoms and immediately remove for 14 days anyone suspected of having been infected. They should also track any workers who came in contact with affected employees, it said.

The ministry said if the one-meter distance cannot be implemented, workers at the plants must wear surgical masks in addition to personal protective equipment, and impermeable partitions must be installed between employees.

The ministry said it incorporated certain of the labor prosecutor’s recommendations, made in a document dated June 2 and seen by Reuters.

As for the CDC’s 2-meter distancing, the ministry said the CDC’s guidelines are “compatible with the reality of U.S. meatplants.”

Many meatpacking plants in Brazil and the United States have had to close due to coronavirus outbreaks.

As of Friday, almost 24% of all COVID-19 cases in Brazil’s southern Rio Grande do Sul state were workers in the local meat industry, according to labor prosecutors and state health data.

Brazil is on track to surpass 1 million confirmed coronavirus cases on Friday, second only to the United States, with total deaths fast approaching 50,000. (Reporting by Ana Mano and Roberto Samora in São Paulo Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)

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