Tesco staff coronavirus outbreak prevention hailed by health officials

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Health officials in Hackney have revealed how a coronavirus outbreak among staff at a Tesco was stopped from spreading through the community.

At a town hall meeting on 13 August it was revealed that Tesco Express in Stoke Newington High Street experienced an outbreak  on 31 July.

It comes after Hackney Council’s director of public health, Dr Sandra Husbands, labelled the borough an “outlier” because it had seen much “higher rates of infection” than other parts of London.

The vast majority of Hackney’s recent cases have come from the north of the borough. The meeting heard that 82% of positive tests between July and 7 August were linked to the N16 and E5 postcodes.

Explaining what happened during the recent outbreak, Dr Husbands told the meeting: “The Tesco case is an illustrative example and we’re learning from it.

“There were a number of staff members who actually tested positive. There were a number of others who were exposed in the period when those people tested positive and therefore had to isolate.

“Because it’s Tesco, and they have a lot of staff, they managed to keep the place going by bringing in other staff from elsewhere. They closed it for longer overnight for a deep clean, then reopened it with staff to keep it going.”

Tesco did not wish to comment specifically on the case. But a company spokesperson said: “We have introduced extensive measures across all of our stores to help keep everyone safe, including protective screens at every checkout, social distancing signage and regular deep cleaning.”

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Earlier this week, Dr Husbands made a public statement aiming to reassure residents that Hackney, which shares its public health team with the City of London Corporation, is not under threat of being put in a local lockdown.

She said: “Compared to areas under local lockdown, such as Blackburn, Leicester, Oldham, or Bradford, London has low rates of infection.

“At borough level, though, Hackney is an outlier with much higher rates of infection than other London boroughs, though only about a quarter to a fifth of the rates in the lockdown areas.

“So in Hackney we’re not yet on the brink of a local lockdown, but that will only stay true if people comply with government guidelines.”

During the August 13 meeting, hosted by City of London Corporation, it was also explained how the Tesco outbreak was discovered.

NHS Test and Trace staff are hired to contact people across the country who test positive for the virus, and interview them over the phone. The NHS tracer will ask the person where they have been and where they work.

Public Health England’s London cell then engaged with Tesco to help them establish how many other people may have been exposed.

Dr Husbands said Hackney and City’s public health team are alerted to any cases that arise in the borough and the Square Mile.

When outbreaks do happen, local public health officers deploy one of several “standard operating procedures” (SOPs) which are plans for how outbreaks can be contained and dealt with in settings, such as shops, offices, care homes, schools or places of worship.

Dr Husbands added: “We have also been in touch with [Tesco] to offer any assistance or answer questions on necessary cleaning or further prevention control measures and are satisfied that they have taken the necessary precautions and have good procedures in place.”

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