Germany extends local coronavirus lockdown in hard-hit district

A lockdown put in place in a district hit by a huge coronavirus outbreak at a meat processing plant will be extended by a week.

Germany extends local coronavirus lockdown in hard-hit district
A resident being tested at a centre in Gütersloh. Photo: DPA

Measures to control the spread of Covid-19 were put in place in Gütersloh, North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW), on Tuesday June 23rd – the first local lockdown since Germany began easing restrictions.

It came after around 2,000 employees at Tönnies meat processing plant become infected with coronavirus. The measures to stall the spread were due to expire on June 30th but are to be extended until July 7th, state premier Armin Laschet said, “as a precaution”.

However, restrictions are to be lifted on June 30th in the neighbouring district of Warendorf, which was also placed under lockdown, That means cinemas, swimming pools, bars and gyms will be allowed to reopen, like other places across Germany.

Similar to the rules that came into force across German states at the height of the epidemic in March, the lockdown resulted in the closures of many businesses and facilities.

Meanwhile, contact restrictions were put in place in a bid to limit contact between people.

READ ALSO: Explained – What you need to know about Germany's new local coronavirus lockdown

No large community spread

According to Laschet, the outbreak has not spread uncontrollably into the general community in Gütersloh. He said the outbreak had mainly affected Tönnies employees.

Many of them are from Romania and Bulgaria and live in shared housing near the plant.

In the district of Warendorf, there has been no spread. About 40,000 tests have been carried out in both districts and Laschet said he had consulted with experts.

In the Gütersloh district, around 112 new infections per 100,000 inhabitants were reported within the last seven days as of Monday. This is well above the critical mark of 50 new infections per 100,000 inhabitants.

The trend, however, is looking good, said Laschet. The rapid containment measures have made it possible to “limit the infection locally and prevent it from spreading to the population”.

The state premier again urged people not to stigmatise people from the Gütersloh district. There had to be a “signal from Germany” that people from Gütersloh were welcome if they could present a negative coronavirus test, he said.

Chancellor Angela Merkel had spoken out last week against the targeting of people from coronavirus hotspots.

As The Local has reported, several states have banned tourists from Gütersloh following the outbreak.

READ ALSO: Austria lifts travel warning for German state of North Rhine-Westphalia

Still no date for reopening of Tönnies

After the outbreak at Tönnies, some 7,000 staff were ordered into self-quarantine. The factory was closed and there is no date yet for its opening. 

Gütersloh district administrator Sven-Georg Adenauer said could only happen when there was no danger to the population.

The Tönnies company still had “a lot of homework to do” until then, said Adenauer.

The outbreak has fuelled a debate in Germany on the conditions for workers at slaughterhouses.

Germany has recorded nearly 194,000 coronavirus cases and 8,961 deaths to date, giving it one of the lowest fatality rates in Europe, reported AFP.

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Munich sees sharp rise in Covid cases after Oktoberfest

Since the start of Germany’s Oktoberfest, the incidence of Covid infections in Munich has risen sharply. Though a connection with the festival can’t yet be proven, it seems likely.

Munich sees sharp rise in Covid cases after Oktoberfest

Two weeks after the start of Oktoberfest, the Covid numbers in Munich have more than tripled.

On Sunday, the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) reported an incidence of 768.7 for the city of Munich, though updated figures for the end of the festival are not expected until later in the week. Usually, on weekends and public holidays, there is a delay in reports.

In the entire state of Bavaria, the incidence value on Sunday was 692.5.

According to Munich’s public health officer, Beatrix Zurek, bed occupancy in Munich hospitals has also increased. Two weeks ago, 200 beds in Munich were occupied by Covid patients, whereas there are now around 350.

Though a relationship between the sharp rise in infections with Oktoberfest, which ended on Monday, can’t be proven at the moment, it seems very likely, according to experts. A significant increase in Covid incidences has also been shown at other public festivals – about one and a half weeks after the start. 

READ ALSO: Germany’s famed Oktoberfest opens after two-year pandemic hiatus

After a two-year break due to the pandemic, around 5.7 million visitors came to this year’s Wiesn according to the festival management – around 600,000 fewer than at the last Oktoberfest before the pandemic in 2019, when there were 6.3 million.

Federal Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD) took to Twitter to comment on the rise in incidence in Munich during the Oktoberfest. “This would not have been necessary if self-tests had been taken before admission,” he said.

“Compared to the price of a measure of beer, €2-3 (for tests) wouldn’t have mattered,” he said.

Even before the start of the Wiesn, he had spoken out in favour of people taking voluntary self-tests. Lauterbach stressed that now is the time for special measures against Covid.

“The development shows what will happen if the states wait too long with the mask obligation in indoor areas,” he added.

READ ALSO: KEY POINTS: Germany’s new Covid-19 rules from October

In neighbouring counties, where many Oktoberfest visitors came from, the number of Covid cases has also risen noticeably.  Beatrix Zurek said that it is unclear, however, how much of a role Oktoberfest played in these figures, as people are currently much more active socially overall, with concerts and other events also taking place throughout the state.

Christoph Spinner, an infections specialist at Munich’s Klinikum, has urged people not to be alarmed by the rising numbers.

“We had expected rising incidences here. We knew that there could be a doubling, tripling, even quadrupling,” he said.

He said that this is no cause for concern, as many people have been vaccinated or have also recovered from previous Covid infections, so any new infections are therefore usually mild.

The virologist advises people over 60 or with pre-existing conditions to get a second booster vaccination, but otherwise said people shouldn’t be alarmed by the rising incidences.