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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Covid face mask rule on flights in Europe set to be eased

The mandatory EU-wide mask requirement for air travel is set to be dropped from Monday, May 16th, but airlines may still require passengers to wear masks on some or all flights

Covid face mask rule on flights in Europe set to be eased

Europe-wide facemask rules on flights are set to be ditched as early as next week in light of new recommendations from health and air safety experts.

The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) dropped recommendations for mandatory mask-wearing in airports and during flights in updated Covid-19 safety measures for travel issued on Wednesday, May 11th.

The new rules are expected to be rolled out from Monday, May 16th, but airlines may still continue to require the wearing of masks on some or all of flights. And the updated health safety measures still say that wearing a face mask remains one of the best ways to protect against the transmission of the virus.

The joint EASA/ECDC statement reminded travellers that masks may still be required on flights to destinations in certain countries that still require the wearing of masks on public transport and in transport hubs.

It also recommends that vulnerable passengers should continue to wear a face mask regardless of the rules, ideally an FFP2/N95/KN95 type mask which offers a higher level of protection than a standard surgical mask.

“From next week, face masks will no longer need to be mandatory in air travel in all cases, broadly aligning with the changing requirements of national authorities across Europe for public transport,” EASA executive director Patrick Ky said in the statement. 

“For passengers and air crews, this is a big step forward in the normalisation of air travel. Passengers should however behave responsibly and respect the choices of others around them. And a passenger who is coughing and sneezing should strongly consider wearing a face mask, for the reassurance of those seated nearby.”  

ECDC director Andrea Ammon added: “The development and continuous updates to the Aviation Health Safety Protocol in light of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic have given travellers and aviation personnel better knowledge of the risks of transmission of SARS-CoV-2 and its variants. 

“While risks do remain, we have seen that non-pharmaceutical interventions and vaccines have allowed our lives to begin to return to normal. 

“While mandatory mask-wearing in all situations is no longer recommended, it is important to be mindful that together with physical distancing and good hand hygiene it is one of the best methods of reducing transmission. 

“The rules and requirements of departure and destination states should be respected and applied consistently, and travel operators should take care to inform passengers of any required measures in a timely manner.”