VERL, Germany (AP) – The German police deployed hundreds of officers on Thursday in two western regions that have been placed under a new pandemic blockade in an attempt to contain a coronavirus outbreak related to a slaughterhouse.
Dressed in white protective gear, officers accompanied city officials who made house calls to quarantined people to check whether they were at home.
Some of the people checked in worked in the large slaughterhouse where approximately 1,300 people had tested positive for COVID-19. But trapped in the same net – or rather, behind steel barricades erected by the authorities – were workers from other local companies who happened to live in the same apartment buildings as the slaughterhouse of the Toennies Group, Germany’s largest meat-processing company.
Many are migrants from Eastern Europe who come legally to Germany hoping to earn many times what they could earn in their home country. Now they rely on food delivered by their businesses or on the help of friendly neighbors like Aved Elias, who brought carts full of goods to quarantined residents on Wednesday.
“We’re not thinking about business right now,” he said. “We only think of people. Everything else is secondary. ‘
Elias’ comment reflects the broad sympathy in the city of Guetersloh for the migrant workers, whose often harsh working and living conditions have been spotlighted by the coronavirus outbreak. Like other companies in the German meat industry, Toennies has long used subcontractors for much of the work in its factories, a practice that critics say allows the company to avoid the stricter oversight it would face if it employed employees directly would take.
North Rhine-Westphalia Governor Armin Laschet, whose center-right party has received significant donations from Toennies over the years, acknowledged this week that the company’s willingness to cooperate could have been greater.
Officials announced on Thursday the opening of five new coronavirus testing centers in Guetersloh, where the slaughterhouse is located.
Sven-Georg Adenauer, the head of the regional administration, said authorities want to run 10,000 tests per day for free.
The service is expected to be widely used, as some regions in Germany have said they will only allow people from the two districts to visit if they can provide a negative test receipt. Authorities warned those seeking a test to expect long waits, and urged them to bring sunscreen and water.
So far, there has been little widespread community transfer, officials say.
In total, since the pandemic began, Germany has confirmed more than 193,000 cases of COVID-19, and 8,936 deaths, according to a note from Johns Hopkins University.
The number of new daily cases had fallen significantly in recent weeks until the outbreak in Toennies and several smaller clusters appeared.
German Health Minister Jens Spahn said on Thursday that it was important that “any outbreak, any chain of infection be interrupted quickly.”
“I know this is hard for the citizens of the affected countries to have these restrictions again, but in the end it is necessary,” said Spahn on the sidelines of a visit to the World Health Organization in Geneva. “For the protection of people there and for the protection of people everywhere in Germany.”
Frank Jordans reported from Berlin. Jamey Keaten in Geneva contributed to this report.
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