In single Brazilian state, some 2,400 meat plant workers catch coronavirus, officials say

FILE PHOTO: A butcher chops pieces of meat at an abattoir in Sao Paulo in this September 9, 2005 file photo. REUTERS/Paulo Whitaker/File Photo

SAO PAULO (Reuters) - More than a quarter of the confirmed novel coronavirus cases in Brazil’s southernmost state of Rio Grande do Sul are among meat plant workers, the labor prosecutors’ office said on Monday.

The prosecutors said in a statement that an estimated 2,399 employees from 24 slaughterhouses in 18 municipalities of the state have been infected. That equates to 25.7% of the 9,332 confirmed cases of coronavirus in Rio Grande do Sul as of Sunday, according to health ministry statistics.

The findings corroborate evidence that meatpackers have become hotspots in Brazil for the coronavirus, which causes the COVID-19 respiratory disease. Overall, Brazil has more than 500,000 cases and nearly 30,000 deaths, according to a Reuters tally.

Brazil is the world’s biggest beef and chicken exporter and the fourth largest pork exporter.

In a separate statement last Thursday, Rio Grande do Sul Senator Paulo Paim said meatpackers in the state employ 50,000 people. He said countrywide the average number of workers per plant is 2,000.

According to Brazil’s agriculture ministry, the country has 446 meat plants, including 194 beef, 148 poultry, 90 pork plants and 14 for other types of meat.

Two of Brazil’s largest meatpackers, JBS SA and BRF SA, own plants in Rio Grande do Sul state. Both firms had units temporarily closed there due to outbreaks of the novel coronavirus.

There have also outbreaks of the novel coronavirus in Santa Catarina state, where the poultry and pork industry directly employ 60,000 workers, according to local industry groups.

JBS on Saturday got a favorable court order to reopen a poultry plant in Santa Catarina that had been closed since May 18.

Reporting by Ana Mano; editing by Grant McCool