Slaughterhouse outbreak leads Germany to ponder new virus lockdowns

Agency Report

Health authorities were racing on Friday to contain a coronavirus outbreak emanating from a slaughterhouse in western Germany, with the state premier warning that a regional lockdown is a possibility if the spread is not contained quickly.

“Should the situation not change, then a widespread lockdown in the region may become necessary,” said Armin Laschet, the premier of the state of North Rhine Westphalia, looking at the situation at the Toennies slaughterhouse in the Gutersloeh region.

After weeks of seeing the number of new cases decline, German health officials are watching nervously as verified infections ratchet up in the community.

So far, 803 infections have been confirmed among the factory’s 1,450 employees.

The new confirmations began trickling in at the start of the week and local schools and day care centres have already been shut down as a precaution to control the spread.

Local officials are still resisting a lockdown, but said most slaughterhouse employees have been put on quarantine.

Others are in a “working quarantine,” which means they are only allowed to travel between their home and workplace.

One such affected worker is Clemens Toennies, the head of the company, a corporate spokesperson confirmed to dpa.

There have been 3,500 tests at the slaughterhouse so far, an operation that has forced officials to bring in the German military for assistance.

All employees were tested on Friday.

Along with the 803 confirmed infections, there were also 463 tests that came up negative. Results are still being awaited for the rest.

Laschet noted that Toennies employees live in multiple communities, which is also increasing the risk of a new outbreak.

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The state’s cabinet is set to meet on Sunday to discuss the matter.

“Everything that is necessary will be done,” said Laschet.

Laschet, who is a potential chancellor candidate in next year’s elections, had been pushing for a quicker reopening for German society as infection numbers had declined in recent weeks.

He has also come under criticism for initially blaming the newest outbreak on Bulgarian and Romanian workers.

The fact that the outbreak is centred on a slaughterhouse has also raised questions about the safety of Germany’s food supply, since earlier outbreaks have also been at meat-processing facilities.

Members of the Toennies family have questioned whether Clemens Toennies had demanded high enough hygiene levels in his factories.

Earlier on Friday, the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), Germany’s disease control centre had reported that the number of new coronavirus infections in Germany for the past 24 hours stood at 770 on Friday, the highest daily toll in a month.

The last time that the daily number of new infections was higher was on May 20, when 797 people tested positive.

Friday’s figure takes the total number of people who have had or currently have the virus to 188,534.

Aside from the slaughterhouse, the country is seeing fresh outbreaks in Berlin, Goettingen, Kassel and Magdeburg.

But authorities say that, so far, these remain isolated and are not a reason for broader concern.

The RKI said on Friday that 16 people had died as a result of the coronavirus in the past 24 hours, taking Germany’s total death toll to 8,872. Some 174,400 people have recovered.

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