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Mass testing at JBS, BRF plants in Center West Brazil town reveals more than 1,000 COVID-19 cases

(Adds companies’ statements, updates BRF infection data in second paragraph)

By Ana Mano

SAO PAULO, July 3 (Reuters) – Mass testing revealed an outbreak of novel coronavirus infections at plants operated by JBS SA and BRF SA in Brazil’s Center West, the labor prosecutor’s office in Mato Grosso do Sul state said on Friday, citing company data.

Some 1,075 people at a JBS pork plant tested positive for COVID-19 as of July 1, representing 30% of total tests processed at its Dourados plant, the data revealed. Some 85 workers tested positive at a BRF chicken facility in the same town, where BRF has around 1,500 employees, according to figures updated on Friday afternoon.

JBS tested 4,134 employees, with 2,518 people showing negative results and 541 results pending. It employs about 4,300 persons in Dourados, which is epicenter of the coronavirus in Mato Grosso do Sul.

JBS, the world’s largest meatpacker, said 20 employees were placed on leave at Dourados after testing positive and are being monitored until they recover completely. It said it adopts a strict health protocol and abides with federal guidelines for operating slaughterhouses during the pandemic.

BRF, the world’s largest chicken exporter, said it is voluntarily testing workers at all plants, but declined to discuss test results.

Both refused to disclose the impact on production after the outbreaks.

BRF and JBS had plants temporarily closed after COVID-19 outbreaks, with the prospect of more closures and potential export restrictions hanging in the air.

JBS is one of four domestic meat suppliers to have a plant banned from exporting to China amid concern over coronavirus infections.

The Brazilian agriculture ministry is trying to reverse these bans.

The JBS testing effort, along with a document detailing the company’s action plan to contain the outbreak, revealed that it employs Brazilians and foreign workers in Dourados, including Venezuelans and Paraguayans.

Some 20% of foreigners at JBS there tested positive for COVID-19 after testing began on May 25, the document showed. (Reporting by Ana Mano Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Marguerita Choy)

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