How Iceland’s Swindon depot contained the Covid outbreak

The Icelandic supermarket’s Swindon depot team explained how they handled a major Covid outbreak during the pandemic.

Dozens of employees at the Penzance Drive distribution center tested positive for coronavirus in the summer of 2020, leading many more to self-isolate.

GXO runs the site and has worked with Swindon Borough Council to test hundreds of staff and contain the contagion as quickly as possible.

Speaking to Adver this month, GXO chief commercial officer Martin Atkinson said the security measures put in place to stop the spread were working so well that a government task force in Downing Street used similar strategies when other outbreaks occurred at the Honda factory and Royal Mail centres.

Mr Atkinson said: ‘It was a very stressful time as it was one of the first major outbreaks in the Swindon area so there was a lot of tension but the advice was very supportive, Steve Maddern [Swindon’s director of public health] does a very good job.

“It was absolutely essential to keep the depot running, because if we stopped, 250 stores would run out of refrigerated food in two days and all the food in a week.

“The department isolated everyone, increased hand cleaning, changed ride-sharing policies and work schedules, and bio-scrambled everything to prevent bugs from ending up on sets.

“Staff on site were well versed in Track and Trace, so colleagues were called in and isolated quickly if someone tested positive.

“[Site manager] Kirk Giles and the team handled it so well that they were asked to explain to Number 10 what they had done and it became best practice for handling outbreaks.

The coronavirus itself wasn’t the only challenge workers faced during this unusual time. The closures have caused an increase in demand for supplies similar to what warehouses usually see at Christmas.

Mr Atkinson added: “We normally spend weeks preparing for our peak times, when our volume increases by 20%, but during Covid we went from normal to peak overnight, without planning – and this request was maintained for a whole year.

“Everyone who worked in the grocery stores and the people in our stores had a year of hard work, it wasn’t an easy time for the staff, but we couldn’t be more proud of them.”

The pandemic has also delayed the opening of GXO’s massive second Icelandic depot at Symmetry Park, which is now operational.

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