By Ana Mano

SAO PAULO (Reuters) – Nearly 340 meatpacking workers at a single BRF SA plant in southern Brazil have tested positive for the novel coronavirus, the company said on Monday.

Brazilian meatpacker BRF said in a statement that 6.6% of its 5,132 workers at its Concórdia plant in Santa Catarina state had tested positive for the virus.

The workers have been preemptively suspended after being diagnosed using rapid testing and will now be submitted to slower but more accurate molecular diagnostic testing, BRF said.

“The news has caused concern about the high number of infections among workers, but we believe the impact on production will be marginal,” said Régis Chinchila, an analyst for Terra Investimentos.

There has been worldwide concern that the pandemic would disrupt food supplies.

BRF’s costs will rise because of measures to protect workers from the virus, Chinchila added.

The company said it has tested all of the workers at its Concórdia facility, which processes poultry and pork, with 93% of workers who tested negative returning to work on Monday.

All BRF plants in Brazil remain open, a spokeswoman said.

BRF is one of several meatpackers that have signed commitments with labor prosecutors aimed at increasing worker protections in a bid to remain in operation.

The testing at Concórdia, however, was imposed by a local health authority order, according to the statement.

BRF and rival JBS SA have had outbreaks at their facilities, which in some cases forced plant closures pending introduction of more strict measures to contain the virus.

Privately-owned Aurora, one of Brazil’s biggest food companies, signed an agreement with labor prosecutors on Friday that requires routine testing of employees and other additional protections. The prosecutors said Aurora’s commitment will help more than 26,000 workers at 16 plants, according to a statement.

(Reporting by Ana Mano, additional reporting by Paula Arend Laier; Editing by Nick Zieminski and Grant McCool)

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