Angela Merkel threatened to enforce huge fines on German slaughterhouses after several coronavirus outbreaks were reported as the lockdown eased. Despite this, COVID-19 cases continued to rise as around 400 workers at a slaughterhouse in northern Germany tested positive for the virus on Thursday. One of Germany’s biggest meat processors, Toennies, said it was shutting an abattoir in Guetersloh.
Euronews reporter Jessica Saltz said: “One of the family owners, Robert Toennies, said that the reason that the outbreak happened was because of the sub-contracting systems that these workers are under.
“Workers at these meat-processing plants in Germany are often from countries in eastern Europe.
“They are sub-contracted to these firms working very long hours in cramped conditions and often forced to work and live together in similar cramped conditions near the plant.
“This comes just a few weeks after several outbreaks in meat processing plants across Germany which forced the German Government to crackdown on conditions of sub-contractors.”
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The local government authority of Gutersloh, where the plant is located, said it will close schools and kindergartens from Thursday as a precautionary measure.
Germany, which has been relatively successful in containing the new coronavirus, in May announced it was tightening rules on abattoirs.
It decided to ban the subcontracting of meat-packing work through employment agencies after a series of coronavirus outbreaks among slaughterhouse workers, Labour Minister Hubertus Heil said.
Toennies said in a statement the plant’s reopening would depend on what the authorities decide.
After speaking with the premiers of Germany’s 16 states, Ms Merkel urged people to remain cautious and maintain social distancing.
But she also said the number of new infections in Europe’s most populous country had stabilised at a low level.
Ms Merkel last month conceded more responsibility to the regional states for tackling the pandemic, but insisted that social distancing and mask-wearing remained essential.
Germany has managed to keep its COVID-19 death toll relatively low despite a high number of cases, confirmed through widespread testing. On Wednesday it reported 345 new cases over the previous day and 30 deaths.