More Brazil southern meat plants have workers sick with COVID-19 -prosecutors

SAO PAULO, June 23 (Reuters) - The number of meatpacking plants with confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus in Brazil’s southernmost state has risen to 32, labor prosecutors said in a statement on Tuesday.

The affected slaughterhouses are located in 23 municipalities of Rio Grande do Sul state, Brazil’s third largest chicken exporter and producer.

To date, some 4,957 meat plant workers have tested positive for the novel coronavirus, for 25.14% of the state’s total 19,710 cases, the labor prosecutors said. That proportion was as high as 35% at one point, as Brazil became the world’s No. 2 hotspot for the COVID-19 pandemic, behind only the United States.

There are more than 1.1 million people infected and 51,000 deaths from COVID-19 in Brazil.

Five employees from Rio Grande do Sul’s meatpacking plants and 12 relatives or friends of people working in the industry died due to the disease, the labor prosecutors said.

Large meat processors like JBS SA and BRF SA operate in the region, and both had plants closed there due to outbreaks.

The ravaging pandemic has not affected Rio Grande do Sul’s output or exports so far, according to José Eduardo do Santos, executive director at Asgav, the state’s producers association.

He told Reuters in a recent interview that the state’s chicken exports rose by 64.5% to 281,400 tonnes between January and May, generating $403 million in the period.

Meatpackers became hotbeds for COVID-19 contagion as employees often work at densely packed workstations in cold, virus-preserving environments.

The meat industry employs an estimated 65,000 in Rio Grande do Sul, the labor prosecutors said. (Reporting by Ana Mano; Editing by David Gregorio)