Germany sees large outbreaks of coronavirus in slaughterhouses

A German Red Cross (DRK) doctor dressed in full PPE takes a swab sample from a local resident in Guetersloh, Germany.

Sean Gallup

Germany has reported a new outbreak of coronavirus cases at a slaughterhouse in Lower Saxony, the latest in a series of infections that have been seen in the country’s meat processing industry.

German media reported Tuesday night that the factory in Wildeshausen is the last meat processing plant to see an outbreak of the virus, with 23 workers testing positive.

The new increase is still worsened by the massive outbreak seen at a plant in the Gütersloh district of North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW), where 1,550 workers have so far tested positive for the coronavirus, Deutsche Welle reported Tuesday night. .

That outbreak, which is managed by Tönnies, Germany’s largest meat processing company, prompted NRW State Prime Minister Armin Laschet to announce Tuesday that the district would be closing until June 30. The restrictive measures were extended to a second district, Warendorf, where some of the workers live. The blockade affects around 650,000 people.

“The important thing now is to try to contain this outbreak and prevent it from entering the general population and make it unstoppable,” Thomas Kamradt, president of the German Society for Immunology, told CNBC.

“It is currently very localized and the important thing is to keep it that way and prevent it from spreading further,” he told CNBC’s “Squawk Box Europe”, noting that “there is something generally about the conditions at these meat processing plants.” .. that seems to give optimal conditions for the spread of the virus. ”

Outbreaks in German slaughterhouses are not new, with at least four major outbreaks reported at different meat industry plants in May. But they have shed light on the industry known for controversial working and living conditions.

In this aerial view, the Toennies meat packaging plant is temporarily closed following a Covid-19 outbreak among workers there during the coronavirus pandemic in the city of Rheda-Wiedenbrueck on June 23, 2020 near Guetersloh, Germany. .

Sean Gallup

Most slaughterhouse workers come from Eastern European countries such as Romania and Bulgaria and are employed by subcontractors rather than the meat processing companies themselves, therefore the salary is generally low and the workers often live in close quarters (and often in confined spaces), making work easier. Viruses to Spread, Experts Say Some industry critics have even compared working conditions in the country’s slaughterhouses to “modern slavery.”

However, the industry is not the only sector dealing with virus outbreaks, as other groups have emerged in institutions for asylum seekers and refugees and among seasonal harvest workers, according to the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), Germany’s public health agency.

The RKI said on Monday that a large Covid-19 outbreak in the Goettingen district of Lower Saxony dates back to family gatherings, and another, in Magdeburg, in the state of Saxony-Anhalt, emerged in several schools that are now closed. “Major outbreaks” continue to emerge in nursing homes and nursing homes, the RKI said, and in Berlin, an outbreak of 85 cases has been linked to members of a religious community.

‘Second wave’ fears

The blockade of the entire district will be a major litmus test to determine whether Germany, a country that has been seen as a hobbyist during the coronavirus pandemic in Europe, for keeping the death toll low, can suppress major regional outbreaks. quickly. To date, Germany has recorded 192,786 coronavirus cases and 8,924 deaths, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

Germany has already been praised for its rapid initial response to the virus, with the goal of containing its spread from the start with extensive testing, contact tracing, and confinement, as groups of the virus began to appear in February and March, when it was implemented. a complete national blockade. As that has been alleviated, the goal now is to keep the virus at bay.

]An apartment complex used by Toennies as a residence for foreign workers from Eastern Europe during the coronavirus pandemic in Verl on June 20, 2020 near Guetersloh, Germany.

Alexander Koerner

“The crucial signal to watch is whether the new outbreak can be contained at the local district level” with Tuesday’s move, Carsten Nickel, deputy director of research for Teneo Intelligence, said in a note Tuesday.

“If this were impossible, the NRW government in Duesseldorf would probably have to consider taking restrictive measures again throughout the Westphalia region, or perhaps across the entire NRW, Germany’s largest state with a population of around 18 million. therefore, one or two weeks will be crucial to assess what the previously discussed risk of a second wave can mean in terms of size and restrictions, “he added.

Berlin will want to put down the outbreaks quickly, especially since they are considered responsible for a sharp increase in virus reproduction or the “R” rate (a measure of how many people, on average, an infected person could infect).

The Robert Koch Institute said over the weekend that the R rate had risen to 2.88, although the rate on Tuesday (estimated using a four-day moving average of the number of new cases and reflects the infection status approximately a week or two)) had dropped to 2.02.