Trading could cease at Sedgemoor Auction Centre unless farmers comply with social distancing rules.
Sedgemoor District Council issued the warning after a council Covid warden reported extensive non-compliance to Covid guidelines from market attendees during an inspection last weekend (6 February).
Up to 25% of ringside bidders failed to wear masks correctly.
This is despite staff at auctioneer Greenslade Taylor Hunt (GTH) being praised for risk assessments and implementing measures such as hand sanitiser stations, signage, verbal reminders and floor markings.
The warden observed households mixing to talk and drink coffee, a “Rugby scrum” forming at the front of each sheep pen and physical contact at times between market goers.
In a letter from Richard Nokes, covid support officer at Sedgemoor District Council, GTH were told they could face a prohibition notice unless social distancing and hand-sanitising procedures improved.
The letter said: “A significant number of attendees/traders do not wear a face covering pulled over their nose and mouth, and some not at all. This is despite of clear notices at the entrance and at appropriate locations around the venues to insist a ‘mask’ is worn.”
The letter said efforts from the market to issue verbal reminders about masks and install floor markings, signage and entrance controls went unheeded by some attendees.
Sedgemoor District Council called for the following improvements to be made:
- Attendees must wear face coverings in the indoor environment – this must be reinforced regularly by GTH staff
- The sheep auctioning needs to be carried out in a different way, so buyers are able to maintain an appropriate social distance from each other and the auctioneer
- GTH needs to consider whether it needs more staff to specifically manage the attendees, including ensuring that the “drop and go” guidelines are being adhered to.
An additional Friday sale had already been introduced to planned market fixtures, which now includes cull sheep, breeding sheep and store lambs.
An in-lamb breeding ewe sale has been postponed until 20 February.
Robert Venner, a managing partner at the market, told Farmers Weekly that it was a small proportion of sale goers that had not conformed to guidelines.
He urged all market goers to wear a face mask, observe “drop and go” policies, socially distance by standing on red dots and regularly hand sanitise.
Mr Venner has sent a letter out to farmers attending the market warning them of the repercussions.
The letter read: “We are classified as key workers and it is important that we keep the food supply chain going.
“However, we as market users must conduct ourselves in a Covid-safe way. We also owe a duty of care to the market staff, without whom the market could not operate. By acting in a Covid-safe manner we also minimise the risk of infection to those staff.”