The huge number of new infections at the company Toennies has prompted local health authorities to order all 6,500 employees and their families to go into quarantine. The worrying outbreak at the meat processing firm near Gutersloh was first reported on Wednesday, when 400 employees tested positive for coronavirus. But just two days later, that total has doubled to 803 and has now jumped even further to 1,029.
China has also now banned meat imports from the plant.
The meat company’s owner, Clemens Toennies, warned the outbreak presents an “existential crisis” for his firm, which has suspended operations as authorities seek to control the new infections.
Speaking at a press conference on Saturday, he said his firm had struggled to collect the personal data of employees and contractors in order for authorities to trace the outbreak.
Mr Toennies said: “As a company we thought we had done everything right.
“As an entrepreneur I can only apologise. We have caused this and are fully responsible for it.”
The latest outbreak may now force the German state of North Rhine Westphalia to impose a broader lockdown.
Premier Armin Laschet said on Friday: “We are seeing an outbreak on a scale that we haven’t seen before.
“We can still localise the outbreak, but if that changes then we will need a broad lockdown in the region.”
Any sort of lockdown, even if regional, would be a major blow to Germany’s plans to ease lockdown restrictions throughout the country.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel had been in favour of maintaining lockdown measures throughout the country for longer.
But she eased restrictions that had been in place for several weeks following pressure from regional premiers.
Mr Laschet was one of the most vocal voices in urging the German Government for a quicker reopening of operationns across the country.
He said: “This outbreak brings with it an enormous pandemic risk.
The premier added a crisis team has been established in an attempt to manage the new outbreak.
Federal health and defence ministers have also promised to make resources available, he said.
Germany, in large part, has managed to bring the coronavirus crisis under control.
But the country has seen repeated outbreaks in slaughterhouses over recent days.
Employees thre are often migrants living in crowded company-provided accommodation.