Sales at two marts servicing an important livestock region have been suspended for a week after staff tested positive for Covid-19.
Hexham and Northern Marts said it had taken the decision to put on hold sales at Hexham and Scots Gap for the safety of its staff and customers.
Managing director Robert Addison said it had been a “big” decision but the right one.
“Quite a few people have been affected and, as the health and safety of our customers and staff is our priority, we took the big decision to cancel this week’s activities.”
The mart sites have now been deep cleaned and it is anticipated that sales at Hexham will resume next Tuesday (20 July).
July is a busy time for lamb sales in the north-east of England but, with big entries at recent sales, Mr Addison hoped that a short gap in trading would not be a concern for most farmers.
“We have had a good trade and have been hitting numbers hard at our recent sales,” he said.
“A week is not a long time and historically there can be a bit of a break in sales when farmers are busy with clipping and weaning.”
The first store lamb sale of the season at Hexham last week saw a record entry of 1,488 animals.
Prime stock sales are held at Hexham on Tuesdays and store sales on Fridays, while weekly primestock sales take place at Scots Gap on Wednesdays from June to March.
From Monday (19 July) mandatory rules around social distancing and mask wearing will be relaxed in England and it will be left to individual businesses to make decisions around enforcing these measures.
Covid-19 cases are expected to rise and the repercussions of this for livestock marts has been highlighted by the suspension of sales at Hexham and Scots Gap.
“We are told we are nearing the end of this pandemic, but I’m not so sure,’’ said Mr Addison.
As the season moves forward, an area of concern is ram sales which were affected last year when dedicated sales could not take place.
Social distance measures still recommended
Mart operators in England are being advised to take a cautious approach to removing social distancing measures from Monday (19 July).
The Livestock Auctioneers Association (LAA) said it is not its role to apply strict rules to mart sites when the government has advised they are no longer applicable.
But LAA secretary Chris Dodds said it would “probably be good practice’’ for marts users to continue to wear face masks and for hand sanitiser to be available.
“This virus has not gone away, I am seeing as many cases, certainly in the area where I live, as I have seen for a number of months. People should still be cautious.”
Marts had been able to continue operating through the pandemic and this had resulted in strong livestock prices, a position Mr Dodds believed would not have happened had they been forced to close.
“If we relax too much and the virus is picked up within a business, we can expect the consequences to make continued trading difficult.”