Coronavirus: Germany expands local lockdown into second district after new outbreak linked to meat plant

‘This is a limited measure of caution’, North Rhine-Westphalia governor says as slaughterhouse cases pass 1,500

Vincent Wood
Tuesday 23 June 2020 11:18 BST
WHO chief says the greatest threat during the pandemic is 'lack of global solidarity'

Germany has reimposed lockdown measures in two districts of its most populous state after a surge in coronavirus cases were reported in one of Europe’s largest slaughterhouses.

Armin Laschet, the governor of North Rhine-Westphalia state, said that Guetersloh county’s roughly 360,000 residents should only have contact with their own household or one person from outside.

Hours later similar restrictions were imposed in neighbouring Warendorf county on its 277,000 inhabitants, where many of the Toennie meat processing plant’s employees live.

He added cinemas, fitness studios and bars will be closed, although restaurants can continue to cater to people from the same household.

“This is a limited measure of caution. We will lift the measure as soon as possible, when we have certainty about the safety of the infection,” Mr Laschet told a news conference. “It is a preventative measure.”

State premiers had agreed to act locally where possible to suppress the virus and there was no justification now for broader action, Mr Laschet added,

More than 1,500 workers in the Rheda-Wiedenbruck plant were confirmed to have contracted the virus over the weekend – a figure that coincided with a leap in the nation’s rate of reproduction for the virus – or R number – from 1.06 on Friday to 2.88 on Sunday, before settling at a current estimate from the Robert Koch Institute for public health of 2.76.

In April, German chancellor Angela Merkel warned the nation’s hospitals could be overrun in the space of two months if the figure rose to sustained heights of 1.3.

Thousands have also been placed under quarantine in the region in a bid to stem the further spread of the virus, which has spread significantly through central Europe’s most-populous nation but caused fewer fatalities than elsewhere. So far Berlin has announced more than 192,000 cases of the virus nationwide, and 8,969 deaths. Nearby Italy, which has reported a comparable number of infections with 239,000 cases, has witnessed 34,657 deaths

It comes as a number of concentrated outbreaks are reported in meatpacking centres and slaughterhouses worldwide – including in the US and UK, two of the nations worst impacted by the virus. While theories on the reason behind this range from the lack of distancing possible in factory settings, poor employment conditions and cold temperatures, industry representatives in the UK told The Independent the matter is a “mystery”.

However the significant outbreak in Germany, which has been praised for its response as Europe became the global epicentre of the virus, poses particular political problems for Mr Laschet, who is tipped to take over as Chancellor from Ms Merkel when she leaves office next year.

Additional reporting by Reuters

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