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Update: New coronavirus outbreak at meat processing plant sparks concern across Germany

Germany has uncovered another cluster of coronavirus infections at an abattoir fuelling alarm about working conditions in the country's meat packing plants.

Update: New coronavirus outbreak at meat processing plant sparks concern across Germany
A meat processing plant in Bad Bramstedt, Schleswig-Holstein, which was hit by a coronavirus outbreak. Photo: DPA

A total of 92 employees at the Westfleisch slaughterhouse in Lower Saxony state have tested positive, local authorities in Osnabrûck district announced late Sunday.

The plant has been closed until further notice and staff have been placed in quarantine, joining a string of German slaughterhouses that have suffered similar outbreaks.

Many of the cases have been among abattoir workers from eastern Europe who live in shared accommodation.

Germany has grown increasingly concerned about the meat industry as a hotbed of new coronavirus infections, just as the nation emerges from lockdown and attempts to restart its battered economy.

READ ALSO: Rise in coronavirus infections spurs concern in Germany

Two similar outbreaks have occurred in France as well.

A large outbreak at a slaughterhouse in the district of Coesfeld in western Germany earlier this month prompted authorities to embark on mass testing at meat processing sites across the country.

More than 260 cases have now been confirmed at the Coesfeld plant.

Another abattoir in the state of Schleswig-Holstein has reported over 100 cases, while one in Bavaria has had around 60.

'Shady'

German Labour Minister Hubertus Heil on Monday called for stricter oversight of the industry, long dogged by complaints over health and safety as well as cramped communal housing for foreign workers.

“These grievances are a problem even without a pandemic. But during the coronavirus crisis they have become a dangerous health risk for employees and the entire population,” Heil told reporters.

The minister is set to hold talks with his Romanian counterpart on Tuesday, before Chancellor Angela Merkel's cabinet is to decide on improved checks and regulations for the industry on Wednesday.

The meat sector's widespread use of subcontractors to supply labourers from abroad in particular is likely to come under intense scrutiny, with Heil describing the practice as “shady”.

READ ALSO: Two German states to test all meatpacking workers after coronavirus outbreaks

German food industry union NGG has urged “far-reaching reforms” to improve health and safety for employees.

It is particularly critical of the meat industry's widespread practice of subcontracting workers “from shady low-cost companies” which the union said allows German firms “to outsource responsibility” for the workers.

But slaughterhouses aren't the only cause for concern.

A refugee home in St. Augustin, near Bonn, has also been hit hard by Covid-19. More than 100 of its 500 residents have tested positive so far, local officials said Sunday.

READ ALSO: What you need to know about Germany's coronavirus pandemic law

Germany has recorded a total of 174,697 coronavirus cases since the start of the pandemic, the Robert Koch Institute for disease control said Monday.  

Just over 7,900 people have died, a far lower fatality rate than in other European countries.

Member comments

  1. Responsible meat consumption = less problems in general, for everybody: environment, public health, etc.

  2. This is the “other” side of borderless Europe. The race to the bottom in wages and employee responsibility of big business.

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HEALTH

EXPLAINED: The new rules around getting a sick note over the phone in Germany

Due to high Covid infection numbers throughout the summer, it’s now possible to get a sick note from a doctor over the phone again for some illnesses. Here’s what you need to know.

EXPLAINED: The new rules around getting a sick note over the phone in Germany

What’s happened?

In spring 2020, German authorities changed the law so that people with a mild upper respiratory tract illness, such as the common cold, were able to get an incapacity to work certificate or AU-Bescheinigung by simply calling and speaking to their GP.

The rule was extended several times and finally reversed on June 1st this year due to falling infection figures. Since then people have had to go back to the practice – or do a video call if the doctor’s office has that system in place – to get a sick note.

Now, due to a decision by the Joint Federal Committee, the regulation has been reintroduced and patients can call their GP again for a sick note.

Can I get a sick note over the phone for any illness?

No. As before, the regulation only applies to patients suffering from a mild upper respiratory tract illness. Though Covid has not explicitly been named in the announcement, it seems that it is intended to be covered by the regulation.

If the doctor is convinced that the patient is unfit for work after a telephone consultation, then they can issue a sick note for up to seven days.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: The changes around doctor’s notes in Germany you should know

If the symptoms persist after seven days, the certificate can be extended once more for another week.

Why now?

According to the Chairman of the G-BA, Josef Hecken, the regulation has been introduced now as a response to rising Covid numbers and in anticipation of the cold and flu season in the coming months: “We want to avoid full waiting rooms in doctors’ offices and the emergence of new infection chains,” he said.

The telephone sick leave rule is a simple, proven and uniform nationwide solution for that, he said. The rule is also necessary because video consultation hours are not yet available everywhere.

What else should I know?

The health insurer DAK is calling for telephone sick leave in the case of light respiratory diseases to be made possible on a permanent basis in Germany. DAK’s CEO Andreas Storm said that this should “not always be up for debate, because it has proven itself.” 

READ ALSO: Everything you need to know about making a doctor’s appointment in Germany

The social association VdK also welcomed the reintroduction of the rule. The VdK’s President Verena Bentele said that the regulation would help to protect high-risk groups in particular from potential infections.

What are the rules to know about sick notes in Germany?

Germany has a strict system in place. If you are sick, you need to give your employer a Krankmeldung (notification of sickness) before the start of work on the first day (of your illness).

However, you also need to hand in a Krankschreibung (doctor’s note) on the fourth day of your illness. Some employments contracts, however, require you to submit a sick not earlier than the fourth day so check with your boss or HR on that point. 

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