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Concerns over bringing poultry workers into England during lockdown

30 November 2020

The Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee has expressed considerable concern about regulations which allow seasonal poultry workers to be exempt from the requirement to self-isolate.

The Health Protection (Coronavirus, International Travel) (England) (Amendment) (No. 24) Regulations 2020, which came into effect on 17 November during the current national lockdown, amends the International Travel Regulations to allow seasonal poultry workers coming to England from overseas to be exempt from the requirement to self-isolate, allowing them to mix with any other person living or working at the farm where they are based.

The exemption is likely to be used by around 5,500 workers from several Eastern European countries, mainly Poland, Romania, Bulgaria and Hungary. Despite infection levels being currently very high in these countries, there is no requirement for the workers to provide evidence of a negative COVID-19 test before travelling, nor are they required to be tested on arrival at their place of work.

As meat packing plants have been a focus of infection in both America and Europe, the Committee expresses surprise that no special measures are envisaged for this work scheme and suggests that the House may wish to ask the minister how the risks of asymptomatic transmission from these workers can be managed if no routine testing is carried out.

The report concludes by further suggesting that the “exemption appears to put economic considerations above those of public health” and that the House may wish to press the minister on whether safer alternatives for achieving the policy objective of the instrument were considered.