Germany imposes new blockade after coronavirus outbreak in meat factory

State Prime Minister Armin Laschet announced that the entire Guetersloh district, home to more than 360,000 people, would be locked up for the next seven days.

Laschet said the new blockade would reflect measures imposed nationwide earlier in the Covid-19 pandemic.

Group gatherings were banned, and schools, kindergartens, museums, restaurants, pubs, swimming pools, gyms, and other public places were forced to dramatically close or limit the number of people allowed at any one time.

Meetings between members of different households have been limited to two people at a time. The stores will remain open, but only with strict hygiene measures.

Laschet said the new measures were necessary because 1,553 workers at the Toennies meat processing factory have tested positive for the virus in recent days.

The plant has been closed since last week. All of its 7,000 local employees and their families have received closure orders, even if they have not tested positive for the virus.

On Tuesday, those restrictions were expanded to cover the entire district. “It must remain in quarantine,” Laschet said during a press conference Tuesday, adding that police will enforce the shutdown if necessary.

He said that while the outbreak has so far been confined to the factory, public health officials don’t know how many people may have come in contact with someone infected in the past few days.

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Local public health officials are now competing to contain the outbreak through a large-scale testing and tracking program.

Everyone who works at the factory has already been evaluated, according to the district website. Laschet said 100 mobile test teams were checking the district to identify anyone who may have been infected.

North Rhine-Westphalia is the most populous state in Germany, with almost 18 million inhabitants.

In the seven days to Monday, the entire state reported 1,860 new cases of the new coronavirus. That statistic suggests that while the outbreak has been severe, so far it has been largely confined to the factory and its workers.

Laschet said Tuesday that so far only 24 cases of coronavirus have been identified outside the factory.

The Guetersloh blockade marks the first time that Germany has imposed a new blockade, after easing many restrictions last month.

So far, Germany has recorded 192,127 cases and 8,909 deaths related to the new coronavirus, rates that are relatively low compared to other European countries.

The government has been credited with acting early in the pandemic and increasing the country’s testing capacity. German hospitals have even been able to accept patients from other more conflicting European countries.