German authorities in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia have re-imposed blockade restrictions in two districts after an increase in cases, with more than half a million people affected.
One area houses a meat packing plant where more than 1,500 workers tested positive.
State Prime Minister Armin Laschet said “preventive measures” in the Gütersloh district would last until June 30.
The neighboring Warendorf district has also seen the restrictions come back.
The state health minister, Karl-Josef Laumann, announced the second confinement a few hours after the first, and said more measures were needed “to protect the population.”
It is the first time that blockades have been reintroduced in Germany since the country began lifting national restrictions in May.
Germany has been praised for its overall response to the pandemic, but infections are feared to rise again.
Authorities in North Rhine-Westphalia were among those who strongly pressured Chancellor Angela Merkel to ease national restrictions in recent months.
What’s going on in North Rhine-Westphalia?
On Tuesday morning, Laschet described the outbreak related to the Tönnies meat packing plant, southwest of the city of Gütersloh, as the “biggest incident of infection” in the country. A few hours later, Health Minister Laumann announced that Warendorf would again impose restrictions.
In both districts, bars, museums, movie theaters, and gyms must close, and restaurants can only serve takeout meals. The stricter measures of social distancing are also in force again, which means that people can only meet one person outside their home and it has to be in public.
Schools and kindergartens have already closed in Gütersloh, and those in Warendorf will be closed on Thursday.
There is also a mandatory quarantine for all employees of the affected Tönnies plant. Three police units have been deployed to enforce the measures, accompanied by humanitarian workers.
Authorities have put metal fences around residential buildings where plant staff live and are distributing food to more than 7,000 employees, many of whom are migrants. Translators are available to explain the situation.
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All operations at the meat packaging site were suspended last Wednesday. A spokesperson for the Tönnies Group apologized for the outbreak, although Laschet accused the company of non-cooperation on Tuesday.
People are not prohibited from leaving the two areas under a new blockade, but Mr. Laschet called on local residents “not to travel to other districts.”
What is the general situation in Germany?
Local authorities in Germany have the power to enforce different measures in their areas. Regulations differ from region to region.
This is not the only outbreak located in the country. A tower was quarantined in the city of Göttingen in central Germany, and police were dispatched to maintain order on Saturday after some residents attempted to leave.
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Lothar Wieler, head of the nation’s public health agency, the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), told reporters on Tuesday that the country was at risk of a second wave of infections, but said he was optimistic that this could be avoided. .
Currently, the reproduction rate, or R number, which indicates how many people an infected person will transmit the virus on average in Germany is estimated at 2.76.
The R number must be below one for infection rates to decrease, but authorities have emphasized that the outbreaks pushing R up remain localized.
The BBC’s Berlin correspondent Damien McGuinness reports that since Germany’s overall infection rate is low, these sudden local outbreaks have a big impact on the national R number. Last week, 140 local authorities have not seen any new cases.
Other European countries are also seeing small outbreaks. On Monday, the Aragón region in northeast Spain again imposed stricter blockade measures on some 68,000 residents of the Huesca province.
Health Minister Salvador Illa said authorities were closely monitoring the situation and that he was “on the way to being under control.”