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.


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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Is the pandemic over in Germany?

As much of Germany lifts - or prepares to lift - the last remaining Covid-19 measures, intensive care units say Covid-19 admissions are no longer straining the system.

Is the pandemic over in Germany?

Despite a difficult winter of respiratory illnesses, intensive care units in Germany say Covid-19 admissions have almost halved. The number of cases having to be treated in the ICU has gone down to 800 from 1,500 at the beginning of this month.

“Corona is no longer a problem in intensive care units,” Gernot Marx, Vice President of the German Interdisciplinary Association for Intensive Care and Emergency Medicine, told the German Editorial Network. “A the moment, we don’t have to think every day about how to still ensure the care of patients, but how to actually run a service that can help.”

Marx said the drop has allowed them to catch up on many postponed surgeries.

The number of sick employees in hospitals is also falling, helping to relieve the pressure on personnel.

The easing pressure on hospitals correlates with the assessment of prominent virologist and head of the Virology department at Berlin’s Charite – Christian Drosten – who said in December that the pandemic was close to ending, with the winter wave being an endemic one.

German federal and state governments are now in the midst of lifting the last of the country’s pandemic-related restrictions. Free Covid-19 antigen tests for most people, with exceptions for medical personnel, recently ended.

READ ALSO: Free Covid-19 tests end in Germany

Six federal states – Bavaria, Baden-Württemberg, Hessen, Thuringia, Lower Saxony, and Schleswig-Holstein – have ended mandatory isolation periods for people who test positive for Covid-19.

Bavaria, Saxony-Anhalt, and Schleswig-Holstein have ended the requirement to wear FFP2 masks on public transport, while Berlin, Brandenburg, Saxony, Thuringia, and Mecklenburg-West Pomerania will follow suit on February 2nd.

At that time, the federal government will also drop its requirement for masks to be worn on long-distance trains. Labour Minister Hubertus Heil says that’s when he also intends to exempt workplaces – apart from medical locations – from a mask requirement.

READ ALSO: Germany to drop mask mandate in trains and buses from February 2nd

Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg will also end the requirement for patients to wear a mask in doctor’s offices. That’s a requirement that, so far, will stay in place everywhere else. Federal Health Minister Karl Lauterbach has also said that he thinks this requirement should remain. 

But some public health insurers and general practitioners are calling for a nationwide end to the obligation for wearing masks in doctor’s offices.

“The pandemic situation is over,” National Association of Statutory Health Physicians (KBV) Chair Andreas Gassen told the RND network. “High-risk patients aren’t treated in all practices. It should generally be left up to medical colleagues to decide whether they want to require masks in their practices.”