Barrow residents ask if shipyard is a coronavirus hotspot | News from the world



BAE would not confirm how many of its Barrow employees tested positive, or how many fell ill with symptoms of coronavirus. A spokesperson said it was “a small number” and that the company “strongly rejected” the suggestion that it contributed to Barrow’s high infection rate.

Barrow continues to have the highest rate of coronavirus infection in the UK, with 553 positive cases – a rate of 823.7 per 100,000.

There was discomfort in the shipyards when BAE decided to keep 1,500 people on site after the lockout to continue building the new Astute-class submarines.

A poster depicting the faces of the main workers outside the rugby field at Barrow-in-Furness

A poster depicting the faces of key workers outside the Barrow-in-Furness rugby field. Photography: Christopher Thomond / The Guardian

Over 500 people signed a petition requesting that all personnel “unrelated to security or essential to security” be returned home. Many Barrow readers have contacted the Guardian to raise questions about the shipyard.

One woman, who asked not to be named, said, “It is so clear to me and the other residents that the high numbers here are the result of an epidemic at the shipyard.

“The main office buildings share stairwells and thousands of people pass through the same 12 turnstiles. Because BAE Systems’ “client” is ultimately the government, at every step the company has been forced to follow government advice. In reality, with workers falling ill and confirmed cases in large shared offices, common sense should have seen most people sent home sooner. “

Colin Cox, Cumbria’s director of public health, said, “I am aware of much speculation about the possible effects of staffing at the shipyard, but I have yet to see any evidence to support it. However, I have had a number of conversations with BAE about their plans to establish safe work systems and know that they have taken their responsibilities to their workforce and the wider community very seriously. . “

According to BAE Systems, 1,500 people have continued to work at Barrow since March 24.

Simon Fell, the local Conservative MP, said it was inevitable that BAE workers would be infected.

“When one in five people here work in the shipyard, I’m not saying that to defend them, but it’s inevitable that someone at the shipyard will understand it. I think one in three working-age people from Barrow work for BAE directly, “he said. “It is not surprising that it affected BAE, but it is also fair to say that they have done a great job in reducing what they are doing there. “

Some people in Barrow compare BAE’s response to that of another nuclear facility higher up the coast of Cumbria, which also employs around 10,000 people. Sellafield’s nuclear waste reprocessing plant, just outside Whitehaven, said it will cut operations on March 18 after a coronavirus outbreak.

According to Jamie Reed, its business manager, ten Sellafield employees have been positive.

Fell said he was convinced Barrow’s infection rate was largely due to an increase in local tests, but said health secretary Matt Hancock has agreed to look into the matter. “I cannot say that I am not concerned, but I firmly believe that it is because we are testing a lot more. We were testing about three weeks earlier [than other areas], we are testing care homes, which many regions still do not do, ”he said.


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