June 19, 2020 / 5:48 PM / 20 days ago

German region risks lockdown if coronavirus outbreak not contained: premier

FILE PHOTO: The Prime Minister of North Rhine-Westphalia Armin Laschet wears a face mask with the heraldic sign of North Rhine-Westphalia as he arrives for a meeting with German federal states governors about measures on the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, at the Chancellery in Berlin, Germany, June 17, 2020. Markus Schreiber/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo

DUESSELDORF, Germany (Reuters) - The Germany region of North Rhine Westphalia faces the threat of a renewed coronavirus lockdown amid a spiralling outbreak at a major slaughterhouse, the region’s premier said on Friday.

The outbreak near Gutersloh was first reported on Wednesday, when 400 workers were tested positive. By Friday, that number had doubled to 803, Premier Armin Laschet said.

“We are seeing an outbreak on a scale that we haven’t seen before,” he said. “We can still localise the outbreak, but if that changes then we will need a broad lockdown in the region.”

The slaughterhouse is owned by Toennies, one of Germany’s largest meat producers. On Thursday, China banned meat imports from the plant, whose operations have been suspended.

A lockdown, even if it was relatively localised, would be a setback to Germany’s reopening strategy: while Chancellor Angela Merkel’s central government was keen to maintain lockdown discipline for longer, pressure from regional premiers has led to most shops and bars reopening, albeit with social distancing.

Laschet, who as premier of Germany’s largest state leads a Netherlands-sized region, was one of the most vocal proponents of a swifter reopening.

“This outbreak brings with it an enormous pandemic risk,” Laschet said, adding that a crisis team had been set up to deal with the outbreak, and that federal health and defence ministers had promised to make resources available.

Even though its management of the coronavirus crisis has been among the most successful in Europe, Germany has seen repeated outbreaks in slaughterhouses, whose employees are often migrants living in crowded company-provided accommodation.

Reporting by Matthias Inverardi; Writing by Thomas Escritt; Editing by Frances Kerry

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