(Changes headline and text with 6 as number of confirmed cases so far)
By Ana Mano
SAO PAULO, May 12 (Reuters) - A plant operated by U.S. grain trader Cargill Inc in southeast Brazil has so far registered six COVID-19 cases, according to a statement sent to Reuters on Tuesday.
In the statement, Cargill said "most" of the employees diagnosed with the respiratory disease at its plant in Uberlândia had already returned to work after receiving medical attention and permission to do so.
Cargill processes soybean and also corn for production of starches and sweeteners at the Uberlândia facility. It also makes acidulants that are used as ingredients to make food and beverages at the plant.
Earlier in the day Cargill had confirmed that it had some cases of COVID-19 at the factory in Uberlândia, without specifying how many.
The company had initially said that the employees received medical care and added people who had close contact with the ill persons were notified individually and quarantined for 14 days, as advised by the World Health Organization.
To date, the company has had no interruptions in Brazilian operations due to the COVID-19 outbreak, it said.
Humberto Ferreira, president of the Uberlândia food workers labor union, told Reuters by telephone on Tuesday he was aware that a Cargill employee was diagnosed with the COVID-19 respiratory disease.
He said the discovery of the case about three weeks ago did not disrupt the plant's operations, but that all persons who had come in contact with the infected worker were quarantined to prevent an outbreak.
Ferreira said the affected workers were gradually being allowed to return to the plant. The union leader said the Uberlândia facility directly employs between 1,300 and 1,400 persons.
Cargill had said in late April that the COVID-19 pandemic posed new challenges for the grain merchant that first started operating here in 1965.
"We will deal with an unprecedented scenario," Paulo Sousa, the company's chief executive in the country, said when the company released financial results. "But we continue doing our part to have Brazil as a reliable supplier of food to the world," Sousa said in the same statement.
Ferreira said the contamination by the novel coronavirus did not happen inside the Uberlândia facility, located in Minas Gerais state.
$1 = 5.7588 reais Reporting by Ana Mano; Editing by David Gregorio and Marguerita Choy