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Response to outbreak among staff at Asda supermarket in Cape Hill, Smethwick

Published 2nd September 2020

Sandwell Council and Public Health England (PHE) Midlands are working with management at the Asda supermarket in Cape Hill, Smethwick, after eight workers tested positive for COVID-19.

An urgent incident management team meeting was held on Tuesday with representatives from Asda, PHE and Sandwell Council.

Initial investigations suggest that cases are linked to the pharmacy department and among a group of staff who have contact in the community.

As a result, the store temporarily closed the pharmacy yesterday to perform a deep clean, and it reopened at 7am this morning.

All affected staff members are self-isolating - for 10 days if testing positive, or for 14 days if contacts of positive cases.

Following a review of contact tracing data, public health partners have discovered that a number of people who have tested positive in Sandwell over the last two weeks had recently visited the Asda store, however there is no evidence of a link between their infection and their visit to the store.

While many customers observe social distancing and wear face coverings within the store, there are some shoppers who do not; putting themselves and other customers at increased risk of infection.

Asda is stepping up its efforts to encourage these customers to wear face coverings by offering any customer without a covering the opportunity to purchase a packet of face masks before they enter the store.

Customers that are unable or unwilling to purchase a packet of masks will be provided with a single use mask before entering the store.

Dr Lisa McNally, Sandwell’s Director of Public Health said: “We are grateful to Asda for their ongoing cooperation in this situation. They have good infection control policies in place and responded quickly to this recent outbreak.

“All businesses need to be especially careful to maintain social distancing on their premises and ensure face coverings are worn.
“I need to remind people that COVID-19 illness can be fatal and we continue to be very concerned by the very high infection rates in Smethwick.

We are strongly advising everyone to avoid crowds and social gatherings as much as possible right now. If shopping or on public transport, a face covering must be worn unless you have a medical exemption.

“We have seen a number of cases of infection passing through extended families and friends. Therefore, people should avoid having non-essential visitors to their homes, including any family they don’t live with.”

Dr James Chipwete, consultant in communicable disease control with Public Health England (PHE) Midlands, said: “It is important that everyone take responsibility for their individual health, and for the health and wellbeing of the wider population.

“We know that Smethwick is an area where we have an increased rate of COVID-19, so it is vital that people observe social distancing and wear face coverings in enclosed public places, including when going shopping.

“The law clearly states that only people with actual medical exemption and children under 11 years old are permitted to go without face coverings in enclosed public places.”

A spokesperson from Asda said: “We have been working collaboratively with Public Health England and Sandwell Council and they are satisfied with the steps we are taking to ensure that our store is a safe place to shop.

All of the affected areas have undergone an extensive deep clean and the colleagues who tested positive self-isolated immediately.”