Workers at the abattoir in the town of Guetersloh, home to some 100,000 people, have tested positive for the virus, prompting the state to put Guetersloh and a neighbouring town back under lockdown. Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz issued a travel warning over the area and said: “Our neighbour Germany has shown with the region of North Rhine-Westphalia how quickly a dramatic situation can arise.”
“We hope, of course, that the situation there will improve quickly and there is no further spread to all of Germany.”
The move puts the state in the same category as the Italian region of Lombardy, the epicentre of Italy’s novel coronavirus outbreak, which was one of the worst in Europe.
Kurz said it also means there will be no direct flights between Austria and the state, which includes the cities of Bonn, Cologne and Duesseldorf, the headquarters of Lufthansa’s budget airline Eurowings.
Austria, whose tourism industry relies heavily on German visitors, pushed for a rapid mutual lifting of coronavirus-related restrictions at the countries’ shared border.
Both have since lifted them for each other and arrivals from most other European Union countries.
Mr Kurz order comes as at least one German state banned compatriots from two districts that entered a new lockdown due to a coronavirus outbreak.
The roughly 640,000 residents of Guetersloh and Warendorf on Wednesday became the first in Germany to revert to the strict curbs that had been gradually lifted since April, after more than 1,500 workers at the north-west districts’ Toennies meatpacking plant tested positive for the virus.
Bavaria ordered its hotels and B&Bs not to accept guests from Guetersloh. Daily newspaper Bild said seaside state Mecklenburg-Vorpommern would also not welcome tourists from the affected areas, and that Usedom, a Baltic island, would expel them.
NRW premier Armin Laschet urged his regional counterparts to allow in holidaymakers who had tested negative for the virus.
He told the state assembly: “One thing is not acceptable – people from Guetersloh should not be stigmatized.”
In the town, residents queued up to get tested, hoping for a passport to travel.
Resident Andreas Tollmann said: “We want to travel to Bavaria on Saturday and it is a condition that you bring a negative corona test.”
Another, Manfred Kersting, said he and his family would normally be in Greece now.
He said: “We were thinking that everything was under control. But I should also say that in some measure we have ourselves to blame. We want ultra-cheap meat and are fully aware that it can’t be produced at such prices… And this is the result.”
In Wildeshausen in northern Germany, a poultry slaughterhouse was to test its more than 1,000 employees after registering 23 positive coronavirus cases, a local authority spokesman told NDR television.
Epidemiologists say the proximity in which employees work and live in meat plants, plus low temperatures and a damp atmosphere may be factors in exacerbating the risk of the disease spreading.
“In two months I think we’ll have a problem if we don’t switch on all the alarm sensors now,” said virologist Christian Drosten, an advisor to Chancellor Angela Merkel.