UPDATE 1-JBS plant in Brazil must close again over COVID-19, appeals court rules

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SAO PAULO, June 25 (Reuters) - An appeals court in Brazil’s southern Rio Grande do Sul state ruled that a plant operated by meatpacker JBS SA must close, overturning a lower labor court decision allowing it to open after an outbreak of the novel coronavirus, according to a statement from the state’s labor prosecutors on Thursday.

The JBS chicken plant in the town of Passo Fundo had been authorized to reopen on May 21, after being closed on April 24, following an outbreak.

JBS declined comment on the new ruling.

The plant, which employs more than 2,600 people, has capacity to process 320,000 birds per day, JBS said when it reopened.

Amid a spate of outbreaks at Brazilian meatpacking plants, earlier this week another court ruled JBS must test all workers for coronavirus at its Três Passos pork plant, also in Rio Grande do Sul.

On the day the ruling was announced, the state labor prosecutors had said the number of meatpacking plants with confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus was 32 in Brazil’s southernmost state.

As of June 23, almost 5,000 workers at meat plants had tested positive for the novel coronavirus in Rio Grande do Sul, or 25.14% of the state’s total 19,710 cases, the labor prosecutors said.

At Três Passos, which remains open, a 48-year-old JBS employee died from COVID-19 complications, the state labor prosecutors said.

Citing local health authorities, the prosecutors also said 117 JBS workers, out of 1,017 at Três Passos, had tested positive for the virus before JBS’s own testing began.

JBS said in a statement to Reuters that it regretted the death of its worker, who had been employed by the company for 27 years. The company said he was off duty since June 8, and died 15 days later.

JBS has been offering assistance to his family. (Reporting by Ana Mano; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Andrea Ricci)