A multi-agency team will meet again on Tuesday to consider the crisis at a now closed Angus abattoir.
The Quality Pork Processors factory at Brechin will remain shut for a fortnight after coronavirus swept through the workforce there.
Company bosses broke what had been branded a “wall of silence” by community leaders to confirm a fortnight-long closure which took effect on Saturday.
Exact numbers of affected staff have not been confirmed beyond 19 positive cases reported last week.
There is speculation the tally has continued to rise and could now number around 30.
The firm said the number of people who had either contracted the virus or were self-isolating had made the continued running of the plant “extremely difficult”.
Workers placed on furlough
The Angus operation is Scotland’s only major pig processing facility and industry leaders fear a major impact on the sector.
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 and 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,” add the firm’s statement.
“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.
Scottish Conservatives rural economy spokesman Jamie Halcro Johnston lodged a Holyrood questions pressing the Scottish Government to implement a scheme similar to a £2.2 million compensation fund set up in Northern Ireland to counter a Covid-19 closure which hit pig farmers there.
He said: “The closure of the Quality Pork Limited plant in Brechin is a major concern for the pig sector and is set to leave farmers with stock that is quickly losing value.
“It appears the option of moving stock to other facilities to be processed isn’t available, and a two-week shutdown of the plant could see the price of each animal drop by around 40 per cent,” he said.