Coronavirus outbreak at Clipper factory in North Yorkshire an 'accident waiting to happen' says councillor

Elected representatives of a community which has seen soaring numbers of coronavirus cases following an outbreak at a warehouse have expressed fury at public health bosses inability to tackle firms which do not operate Covid-safe work practices.

Coronavirus rates in Selby shot up following the outbreak at the factory

A North Yorkshire County Council meeting heard Selby District’s Covid infection rate had soared to the highest in the UK after numerous cases were identified among staff who worked at retail logistics firm Clipper, which employs 700 people in Barlby Road, Selby.

Councillors heard the council was continuing a live operation with Public Health England, Clipper, the Health and Safety Executive and Selby District Council to ensure Covid safe work practices.

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The authority's public health boss Councillor Caroline Dickinson said the county council and its partners had implemented numerous outbreak control measures and would be investigating the outbreak.

She added: "North Yorkshire County Council encourages all businesses in the Selby area and indeed across the county to review their Covid-safe practices."

Selby councillor Stephanie Duckett said many people in the community could not understand why the factory had not been shut down to stop the virus spreading.

She said: "We now have it right across the community because people have been mixing and we might have been able to contain it a lot better if the factory had been shut down for a while."

The debate heard Clipper’s plant being described by Councillor John McCartney as “a sweat shop” and “an accident waiting to happen”, which workers were travelling to in groups and not social distancing when they arrived. The firm was also accused of failing to announce the outbreak at the plant for up to four days.

Calling for councils to be more proactive in checking on firms Covid-safe practices, Cllr McCartney, said: “I am quite ashamed that in 2021 we can have companies that operate like Clipper do.”

The meeting heard the council did not have the power to close the factory, it had to be the firm. In addition, councillors were told it was down to the firm whether it revealed it had an outbreak.

A spokeswoman for Clipper, which, among other things, runs a returns management service for online fashion retailer, ASOS, said there was no evidence to suggest any cases among its staff were contracted in the warehouse.

She said: "As the health and wellbeing of our staff is our number one priority, we are maintaining our social distancing protocols, conducting daily on-site testing and communicating regularly with staff and the environmental health officer, who has visited the site in the last week and verified our approach.

"Our warehouse initiatives include stringent social distancing measures and cleaning regimes across the shop floor, communal areas and outside spaces, including daily deep cleaning via fogging, in line with the guidelines from the Government and Public Health England.

"Warehouse operations have also been altered to accommodate one-way systems to ensure there is no cross-over of colleagues, whilst picking and packing desks have been spread out so colleagues are able to socially distance. Team members are also provided with hand sanitiser and masks. The start and end times of shifts have been staggered, with marked ‘entry’ and ‘exit’ areas."