Bosses at the coronavirus-hit Brechin pig processing plant have closed the business for a fortnight.
After coming under mounting criticism over their handling of the Angus outbreak, abattoir operators, Quality Pork Processors confirmed the closure on Monday.
It took effect at the weekend, after an NHS Tayside Incident Management Team was put in place at the Montrose Road plant following 19 confirmed Covid-19 cases in the workforce.
A company statement said: “The QPP Board has agreed it is in the best interests of the health and safety of its team members to temporarily halt operations at its pig processing site in Brechin for a period of two weeks, commencing Saturday January 23.
“The decision has been made as a result of the impact of Covid-19 on our workforce and the high level of absenteeism at the site which has made maintaining safe operations extremely difficult.
“All employees are now being treated as close contacts of a number of team members who have received positive test results during the past week.
“All affected colleagues are being fully supported to self-isolate in line with government guidelines, and we are working closely with public health authorities, Scottish Government and farmers to help manage the situation.
QPP added: “All those employees unable to work as a result of the closure, including anyone currently self-isolating, will be placed on furlough.”
The company defended its approach to the outbreak, which took hold last week as saw positive case numbers quickly escalate.
“QPP has been rigorous in our approach to COVID-19 management, implementing a wide range of measures that fully comply with or exceed government guidelines to ensure a safe working environment.
“This comprehensive approach has helped to ensure that the Brechin site has remained fully operational since the onset of this virus in the UK and prior to last week there had been no positive COVID-19 cases at the site.
Pig producers back ‘difficult decision’
Andy McGowan of Scottish Pig Producers (SPP) said: “We support the difficult decision of the QPP Board to temporarily halt operations at Brechin for a period of two weeks.
“We are working closely with our farmers during this period to source additional accommodation for the pigs and ensure animal welfare standards are not compromised.
“The Brechin facility is key for the longer sustainability of the Scottish pig industry and to ensure livestock does not have to travel long distances.
“We will work with the QPP board in planning for the reopening of the facility as soon as possible to limit the impact on animal welfare for our farmers,” said Mr McGowan.