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More German meatpackers hit by virus

Kristie Pladson
May 11, 2020

A slaughterhouse in the western city of Bochum has identified at least 22 coronavirus infections among its employees. Over 200 employees at another abattoir nearby have tested positive for the deadly virus.

Interior view of a a beef processing plant in Germany
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/O. Krato

A coronavirus outbreak was uncovered at a third meatpacking plant in Germany after at least 22 employees in the western German city of Bochum were found to be infected with the deadly coronavirus, Radio Bochum and the Rheinische Post reported on Monday.

The most recent cases were detected after outbreaks at meatpacking plants in the states of North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) and Schleswig-Holstein prompted German authorities to carry out tests at other locations.

Read more: Coronavirus: 'Modern slavery' at the heart German slaughterhouse outbreak

As of Sunday, 205 cases of coronavirus had been confirmed at a meat packing plant in the city of Coesfeld, about 70 kilometres (43 miles) north of Bochum. Nearly 950 of the company's 1200 employees have been tested. 

Germany: Restrictions eased despite climbing infection rate

Further test results are still pending in both locations. 

At least 109 cases of coronavirus were previously detected at a plant in the state of Schleswig-Holstein. 

COVID-19 outbreak in German abattoir

Shameful housing conditions

Authorities also inspected employees' communal living quarters, where hygienic standards were found to be lacking. 

The majority of the employees in Coesfeld are immigrants from Eastern Europe, RP-Online reported, and are housed together in dormitory-style quarters. 

Where the employees in Bochum are from and whether they live in similar housing has not yet been confirmed.

Read more: Germany: Catholic chiefs reject cardinals' coronavirus 'conspiracy theories'

According to the labor union Nahrung, Genuss, Gaststätten (NGG), such employee housing allows the virus to flourish. Many of these laborers are employed by agencies who help them acquire jobs in Germany. 

"They live too close together," said union representative Thomas Bernhard, who described the situation as a "huge problem." 

Emergency measures implemented

NRW, the German state where both Bochum and Coesfeld are located, on Friday became the first to activate an emergency coronavirus response mechanism. The move was in response to the outbreak in Coesfeld. 

The mechanism extends public restriction measures implemented due to the coronavirus until May 18 for the area around Coesfeld. Many measures are due to be relaxed nationwide on May 11. 

Both NRW and Schleswig-Holstein have said they will test workers at all slaughterhouses and meatpacking plants in the state. 

Such locations have already become a hotbed for coronavirus in the US, where dozens of plants have shut down amid rising infections and fatalities. 

The Centers for Disease Control in the US said the trend can be explained by the fact that meatpacking is a physically gruelling job that requires employees to keep close proximity to one another. 
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