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Not welcome! German state bans compatriots from virus-hit town

BERLIN (Reuters) - At least one German state banned compatriots from two districts that entered a new lockdown due to a coronavirus outbreak, and Austria issued a travel warning, causing anger tinged with resignation among locals.

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The roughly 640,000 residents of Guetersloh and Warendorf on Wednesday became the first in Germany to revert to the strict curbs that had been gradually lifted since April, after more than 1,500 workers at the north-west districts’ Toennies meatpacking plant tested positive for the virus.

Bavaria ordered its hotels and B&Bs not to accept guests from Guetersloh. Daily newspaper Bild said seaside state Mecklenburg-Vorpommern would also not welcome tourists from the affected areas, and that Usedom, a Baltic island, would expel them.

Austria warned against travel to the whole state of North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW), putting it in the same category as the epicentre of Italy’s outbreak in Lombardy.

NRW premier Armin Laschet urged his regional counterparts to allow in holidaymakers who had tested negative for the virus. “One thing is not acceptable - people from Guetersloh should not be stigmatized,” he told the state assembly.

In the town, residents queued up to get tested, hoping for a passport to travel. “We want to travel to Bavaria on Saturday and it is a condition that you bring a negative corona test,” said Andreas Tollmann.

Another resident, Manfred Kersting, said he and his family would normally be in Greece now.

“We were thinking that everything was under control..,” he told Reuters. “But I should also say that in some measure we have ourselves to blame. We want ultra-cheap meat and are fully aware that it can’t be produced at such prices... And this is the result.”

In Wildeshausen in northern Germany, a poultry slaughterhouse was to test its more than 1,000 employees after registering 23 positive coronavirus cases, a local authority spokesman told NDR television.

Epidemiologists say the proximity in which employees work and live in meat plants, plus low temperatures and a damp atmosphere may be factors in exacerbating the risk of the disease spreading.

“In two months I think we’ll have a problem if we don’t switch on all the alarm sensors now,” said virologist Christian Drosten, an advisor to Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Reporting by Madeline Chambers and Reuters Television; editing by John Stonestreet