Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 30 November 2020

CORONAVIRUS

Coronavirus: Outbreak at German meat processing plant revives fears of reopening economy

The outbreak may force a German state to impose a broader lockdown.

A paramedic wearing full body protection stands inside an ambulance near the Toennies meat company. Getty
A paramedic wearing full body protection stands inside an ambulance near the Toennies meat company. Getty

More than 1,000 employees at a German meat processing company have tested positive for coronavirus as the country tries to lift its lockdown measures without reviving the outbreak.

Local health authorities have ordered all 6,500 employees at Toennies and their families into quarantine.

During the pandemic, Germany has confirmed 190,670 cases but also had fewer deaths, at 8,895, than most major economies and European Union nations.

The localised outbreak could be a setback for German attempts to fully reopen, but so far health experts hope the outbreak can be contained.

“We have no significant introduction of coronavirus cases into the general population,” said Sven-Georg Adenauer, head of the district authority.

“So it is still the case that if we did not have the events around the Toennies company, we would have a normal development in the district of Guetersloh, a normal course of events like everywhere else in Germany.”

Speaking at a press conference on Saturday, the meat company's owner, Clemens Toennies, said the outbreak presented an "existential crisis" for his firm, which has suspended operations as authorities seek to control the outbreak.

Police secure an apartment complex used by the Toennies meat company to house foreign workers from eastern Europe. Getty 
Police secure an apartment complex used by the Toennies meat company to house foreign workers from eastern Europe. Getty 

"As a company we thought we had done everything right. As an entrepreneur I can only apologise. We have caused this and are fully responsible for it," Mr Toennies said.

The outbreak may force the German state of North Rhine Westphalia to impose a broader lockdown.

The outbreak near Gutersloh was first reported on Wednesday, when 400 workers tested positive. By Friday, that number had doubled to 803 and it climbed further to 1,029 by Saturday.

The localised lockdown is a setback for Germany's reopening strategy, which came after pressure from regional leaders. Chancellor Angela Merkel had favoured maintaining lockdown discipline for longer.

Germany has seen repeated outbreaks in slaughterhouses, whose employees are often migrants living in crowded company-provided accommodation.

Updated: June 22, 2020 11:45 AM

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