Three workers escape Herefordshire farm at centre of coronavirus outbreak

Victoria Ward
AS Green & Co in Mathon, Herefordshire - Matthew Horwood/Getty
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Police were on Monday hunting for three workers who fled a Herefordshire farm at the centre of a coronavirus outbreak, amid claims the site breached quarantine guidelines for seasonal workers.

The trio, including one who had tested positive for the virus, apparently gave local authority officials and police the slip by escaping over fields from the locked down site.

Superintendent Sue Thomas, the Herefordshire Police commander, confirmed that officers were working with Public Health England (PHE) and the council to reassure the local community and ensure that the remaining staff in quarantine at A S Green & Co, in Mathon, near Malvern, were kept safe.

"In relation to an individual who has left the site after testing positive with the virus, we are assisting our colleagues at Public Health England, as required, in order to trace them," she said.

The force confirmed that three employees had left the site.

The family-owned farm, which specialises in growing broccoli, broad beans and runner beans, was forced into lockdown after 73 workers tested positive for coronavirus, with around 200 staff due to spend a fortnight in isolation, as one extended bubble, on the site.

A police officer stands at the entrance to the AS Green & Co farm - Matthew Horwood/Getty

In order to try and keep the workers, most of whom are eastern European, at the farm, the local authority was said to be offering them "beer and cigarettes".

Their passports are also being kept "secure" at the farm, a source told Sun Online.

It is believed the first virus case was reported to the farm last Wednesday, and five people tested positive the following day. By the time the farm was locked down, there were 72 cases on site, which has since risen to 75.

Government advice for seasonal agricultural workers travelling to England to pick fruit and vegetables, published last month, says that the rules on self-isolation differ to those for other international travellers due to the crucial nature of their work for food supply. 

Those travelling from non-exempt countries are instructed to self-isolate at the farm where they work and live for their first 14 days in the UK. They are allowed to work on the farm on the condition that they "avoid contact with others" and follow social distancing rules.

Employers are told to put workers into groups and strictly limit contact with people outside those groups.

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Most of the workers at A S Green and Co are understood to be from Bulgaria and Romania, countries which are not exempt from quarantine rules.

It is claimed workers at the farm, which supplies Marks & Spencer, Sainsbury's Aldi and Asda, live cheek by jowl in mobile homes despite official advice that foreigners must not have contact with others during their first 14 days in Britain.

A former employee, who spent three weeks working there before quitting in protest over working conditions last month, said that, after spending one week in quarantine, social distancing was not observed.

"I was isolated at the beginning, but after that we were treated as one big household and you are all working together," she told the Guardian. 

"Everyone is living and working so close together that it's not surprising that, if anyone gets Covid, it will spread very fast, and now nearly half of them have got it."

She revealed that the workers shared 33 mobile homes on the site at a cost of £50 each per week and were taken to a local supermarket to buy food once a week.

Authorities are said to be concerned about the regular trips to a Morrisons store in Malvern.

PHE insisted on Monday that, having interviewed the majority of the farm's staff, they were confident that employees had remained on site. However, it added that it would continue to work with the owners "as further information comes to light".

It is still investigating the source of the outbreak.

The farm owners could not be reached for comment.