German district reluctant to close meat plant despite virus outbreak

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A German official said he saw no reason to shut down the operation at a chicken slaughterhouse in Lower Saxony, Despite a significant outbreak of coronavirus infections among workers.

Despite a significant outbreak of coronavirus infections among workers at a chicken slaughterhouse in Lower Saxony, an official said, on Sunday, he saw no reason to shut down the operation.

“It’s a matter of discretion,’’ said district administrator, Herbert Winkel, of the Vechta district in Lohne.

“We couldn’t identify a specific source of infection.’’

He said that the outbreak had been traced to a cardboard warehouse where employees met during breaks.

But the company’s safety and hygiene concept are good, Winkel added, saying most of those affected probably caught the virus in their free time.

So far, 66 workers of 1,046 at the Wiesenhof group’s chicken slaughterhouse have tested positive for the virus.

Winkel said 70 of their relatives were in quarantine and that further contact tracing was planned on Monday.

The case is likely to cause concern in Germany after a major outbreak among workers at a slaughterhouse in North Rhine Westphalia forced the re-introduction of sweeping restrictions for hundreds of thousands of people in the region.

Production was halted at the Toennies plant in mid-June after around 1,400 employees were found to have caught the virus.

School and business closures snapped back into place temporarily and the state government tightened restrictions on gatherings in order to prevent the virus from spreading to the broader population.

The outbreak fuelled a debate in Germany over the working conditions for the mostly Eastern European employees, who are often brought into the country by subcontractors and housed in shared accommodation.

Hygiene regulations in the country’s meat industry were also called into question.

Despite fierce criticism, Toennies wants to be reimbursed for wages paid after officials closed down the company’s main plant.

If necessary, Clemens Toennies, the boss of the largest German slaughterhouse company, wants to push this through via the courts.

“In case of doubt, this will also be a matter of law,’’ he told the local newspaper, Westfalen-Blatt.

Toennies and several subcontractors have already submitted applications for wages to be reimbursed by the state of North Rhine Westphalia.

Agriculture Minister, Julia Kloeckner, criticised the move, while state Health Minister, Karl-Josef Laumann, said he did not think Toennies could claim compensation for the four-week forced shutdown after the plant’s mass outbreak of infections.

Social Democrat parliamentary group deputy, Katja Mast, told dpa that Toennies lacked understanding and a sense of decency and responsibility.

“What Toennies is doing underlines once again that a toughening of the law is urgently needed and must come; and it will,’’ she said.

In contrast, Toennies said in an interview that he wanted to prevent his employees and service providers from being “stigmatised”.

“Some have led a political campaign against Toennies and we are now defending ourselves against it,’’ the company head said.

Germany recorded 202 new cases of the virus in the past 24 hours and has so far reported 201,574 coronavirus infections and a death toll of 9,084, the Robert Koch Institute, the country’s disease control agency, said on Sunday.

 

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