JBS approved to reopen Brazil beef plant after hundreds test positive for COVID-19

SAO PAULO (Reuters) - JBS, the world’s largest meatpacker, received permission from a court in Brazil’s remote state of Rondônia to reopen a beef plant even after 266 employees there tested positive for the COVID-19 respiratory disease, according to a statement from state labor prosecutors on Tuesday.

The company confirmed the ruling and said the plant was allowed to resume activities on Friday after the entire workforce there was tested for the novel coronavirus.

The plant employs 900 people in São Miguel do Guaporé, a town of only 23,000 inhabitants.

In the statement, the labor prosecutor’s office criticized the ruling that authorized the plant to reopen on June 4, only days after a May 27 order to close it.

“The Rondônia labor and state prosecutors believe that it would be necessary to implement a more rigorous testing protocol before returning to activities,” the statement said.

Prosecutors also called on JBS to remove all employees who had contact with sick workers while enforcing at least 1.5 meters of physical distancing on the plant’s production lines.

JBS did not comment on the prosecutor’s stance, saying only the plant was allowed to resume activities after an audit.

Citing a June 6 bulletin from municipal health authorities, labor prosecutors said 441 people had tested positive for COVID-19 in the town where the plant is located, including at least 266 JBS workers.

More than 60% of the people infected in the town are employed by JBS, the prosecutors said, adding there were at least three COVID-19 deaths linked to JBS workers.

JBS confirmed the three deaths in the town but said the deceased, though family members of JBS workers, did not actually live with them.

Reporting by Ana Mano; Editing by Cynthia Osterman