Germany orders first local lockdown since easing

BERLIN (AFP) – German authorities yesterday ordered a new lockdown for an entire district – the first since easing coronavirus restrictions and a major setback to hopes of a swift return to normality.

“For the first time in Germany, we will return an entire district to the measures that applied several weeks ago,” state premier of North Rhine-Westphalia Armin Laschet said.

“We will reintroduce a lockdown in the district of Guetersloh,” he said, adding that the restrictions that cover 360,000 people and will be valid until at least June 30.

The move came after a coronavirus outbreak at a slaughterhouse in the town of Rheda-Wiedenbrueck that has left more than 1,500 workers out of a total of nearly 7,000 infected.

The outbreak in Germany’s most populous state is the biggest since the country began lifting the lockdown in early May.

Members of German Red Cross (DRK) stand in front of a house where employees of the Toennies meat factory live in Rheda-Wiedenbrueck, Germany. PHOTO: AP

The new lockdown means a return to measures first introduced in March, with cinemas, museums, concert halls, gyms, swimming pools and saunas shut down, Laschet said.

Several outbreaks at slaughterhouses, not just in Germany but also in France, put a spotlight on the working and housing conditions facing the workers – many of whom come from Romania or Bulgaria.

But Germany has also seen new coronavirus clusters in residential buildings in Lower Saxony and Berlin, where 370 families living in high-rise flats were placed under quarantine in one neighbourhood last week.

With new infection rates sharply down from highs in March and a death toll significantly lower than those of its neighbours, Germany became the first major European Union (EU) country to begin easing virus restrictions about seven weeks ago.

But Chancellor Angela Merkel has repeatedly warned against complacency before a viable vaccine is found.