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Germany orders new lockdowns in two areas in response to Covid-19 outbreaks

The restrictions were announced in Guetersloh and neighbouring Warendorf in western Germany.

Medical staff take Covid-19 tests of meat factory workers in Germany.
Medical staff take Covid-19 tests of meat factory workers in Germany.
Image: AP/PA Images

GERMAN AUTHORITIES TODAY ordered fresh coronavirus lockdowns in two districts — the first since the easing of restrictions in the country. 

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 30 June, Laschet said.

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

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.

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. 

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

virus-outbreak-germany A city entrance sign in Guetersloh, which faces the return of drastic restrictions. Source: Martin Meissner/AP/Press Association Images

New normal

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 Covid-19 outbreaks at slaughterhouses in Germany and France have put a spotlight on working and housing conditions facing the workers – many of whom come from Romania or Bulgaria.

The German government has responded by banning the use of subcontractors in the meat industry.

Toennies, Germany’s largest meat producer by both output and turnover, has announced its own measures to improve conditions, including direct contracts with employees and “sufficient and appropriate” living space.

Company head Clemens Toennies has publicly apologised for the outbreak, saying the company was “fully responsible”.

Germany has also seen new coronavirus clusters in residential buildings in Lower Saxony and in Berlin, where 370 families living in high-rise flats were placed under quarantine in one neighbourhood last week.

Germany became the first major EU country to begin easing virus restrictions about seven weeks ago.

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It is now counting on contact tracing – both through human trackers and a new app – to ensure new infections are isolated.

Chancellor Angela Merkel has repeatedly warned against complacency before a viable vaccine is found.

© – AFP 2020

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