German region in lockdown after new outbreak

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The new lockdowns in Guetersloh and neighbouring Warendorf in western Germany came after a coronavirus outbreak at a slaughterhouse that has infected more than 1,500 workers.

A member of a mobile testing unit of the German Army and German Red Cross tests a resident for the coronavirus disease (Covid-19), following an outbreak of the disease at Toennies meat factory which remains under lockdown, in Guetersloh, Germany, June 22, 2020. (Reuters)

German authorities on Tuesday ordered fresh coronavirus lockdowns in two districts – the first since easing restrictions and a major setback for hopes of a swift return to normality.

The new lockdowns in Guetersloh and neighbouring Warendorf in western Germany came after a coronavirus outbreak at a slaughterhouse that has infected more than 1,500 workers.

“For the first time in Germany, we will return an entire district to the measures that applied several weeks ago,” said Armin Laschet, state premier of North Rhine-Westphalia, announcing the measures for Guetersloh.

That lockdown, set to affect 360,000 people, will stay in place until at least June 30, Laschet said.

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North Rhine-Westphalia health minister Karl-Josef Laumann later ordered similar measures for Warendorf, covering a further 278,000 residents.

‘Emergency brake’ 

The outbreak at a slaughterhouse run by the Toennies meat company that employs 7,000 people in Germany’s most populous state is the biggest since the country began lifting virus lockdown measures in early May.

Toennies, a family-owned company, has been criticised for using subcontractors for parts of its operation. The practice, which is common in the German meat industry and which the government now wants to ban, often results in migrant workers living in cramped communal housing and being transported to abattoirs in minibuses, heightening the risk of infection.

A video circulating on social media also showed workers at Toennies seated close together during break times, although the company has disputed how recent the video is.

Local authorities across Germany agreed then to pull an “emergency brake” and reimpose social curbs if the infection rate rises above 50 cases per 100,000 residents over a week in a particular district.

The rate in Guetersloh has soared well above that, sitting at 263 cases per 100,000 residents on Monday.

The new lockdown means a return to measures first introduced in March, with cinemas, museums, concert halls, bars, gyms, indoor swimming pools and saunas shut down, Laschet said.

Schools and kindergartens have also been closed ahead of school holidays which will start this weekend.

Guetersloh residents were understanding about the new lockdown.
“I had actually expected this much earlier,” said Ullrich Wegner.

Brigitte Jaeger agreed: “It is probably a little too late, otherwise it would not have spread so much.”

The new lockdowns come as Germany and the rest of the EU begin taking steps towards getting tourism up and running again, with many European borders reopening just last week.

Several planeloads of German tourists have flown to Spain’s Mallorca island to take part in a test of plans to reopen the popular destination…

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