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JCB, the mining equipment maker, said on Wednesday it was preparing to halt operations at its factory in Dunton, Essex, for several weeks and shed 300 jobs as a result of a virus that has spread throughout its supply chain in China.

Britain’s No 1 construction equipment manufacturer has been forced to shut Dunton for the rest of this week and to scale back production for five days in March. The factory currently employs 500 people, but is spread across 20 sites in China and has been offering voluntary redundancy.

The company also said it was battling a problem with its power delivery system.

First installed by JCB in 1981, the system transmits electric power back to the machine from a rail or cable, as opposed to the current required to start a combustion engine. The problem caused significant failures at some sites but did not affect plant and machinery engineers and qualified employees. The short-term solution means the systems at its factories in the Far East and Ireland will be operated entirely by manual controls.

Nick Fellingham, managing director at JCB’s UK operations, said: “The things which have caused these failures have been specific to each site. It seems to be rather a single bug which has affected the whole network.”

The company said it was unsure when the system would be working properly again, but reassured customers that it had identified a shortcoming that was found “many years ago” but had never been exploited.

“This is a commercial decision for JCB but our main customers have been very supportive and understanding of the loss of production at the UK site,” it said.

The company first suspended operations at Dunton in March 2015 after the discovery of a cross-infection disease known as Hamster’s disease, but it returned to full production at that site in July last year after implementing a long-term management plan to prevent future outbreaks.

Shares in JCB fell by 3.6 per cent to £14.40 in afternoon trading.