Chilean salmon farmers Salmones Austral, Yadran and Marine Farm paused operations on Friday in Quellon on the southern Chiloe island as part of a drive to combat the spread of the deadly coronavirus, trade association SalmonChile said.

Operations were paused to allow a comprehensive polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing program to be carried out under an industry plan overseeing sanitation of all sites experiencing outbreaks.

SalmonChile Territorial Director Tomas Monge said the companies made the pause voluntarily, and noted that since last Jan. 18, only workers testing negative for COVID-19 have been in the facilities.

Leading executives from AquaChile, Cermaq, Mowi Chile and Salmones Aysen met online on last week under the auspices of the The Chile Salmon Council, which was formed last year and which accounts for roughly half of Chilean production.

Companies are putting increased polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing at the forefront of the measures, with the overall death toll in Chile nearing 18,000 among 681,000 recorded cases.

Since the onset of the pandemic a year ago, producers have been enforcing strict protocols at all stages of the production cycle in order to minimize the risks of contagion at their operations.

Rapid COVID tests, saliva and nasal PCR tests have become more frequent. Workers at production sites must show a negative PCR result before beginning their shifts.