January 29, 2020 / 5:56 PM / 20 days ago

Keep calm and work at home: order prevails at virus-hit German firm

STOCKDORF, Germany (Reuters) - Four of their co-workers have contracted the coronavirus after a colleague from China visited the firm and their factory has been temporarily closed, but staff at German auto parts supplier Webasto insist they are not worried, even as the global death toll rises.

A view shows the headquarters of the German company Webasto, where four employees have tested positive for the coronavirus, in Stockdorf near Munich, Germany, January 29, 2020. REUTERS/Michael Dalder

Their calm is shared by locals in Stockdorf, a village of some 4,000 people just 10 km (6 miles) southwest of Munich, where Webasto’s [WEBA.UL] plant of 1,000 is based.

Updates on the condition of the four - three men aged 33, 27 and 40 and a 33-year-old woman - are positive.

Clemens Wendtner, chief doctor at the Munich Schwabing clinic where they are being cared for, said: “The four patients are free of symptoms and in good clinical condition. This is really good news.”

“They are currently still with us for clinical observation. As they are isolated, there is no risk of infection for other patients and visitors to the Munich Clinic Schwabing”.

Speaking outside Webasto’s factory gates by the deserted carpark, company spokeswoman Nadine Schian said a group of managers were working out how staff could work from home.

“Inside, the crisis committee is meeting: management, communications, IT. It’s about two dozen people,” she said.

In one of the first cases of person-to-person transmission outside China, a 33-year-old man who worked at Webasto apparently contracted the virus on Jan. 21 during a training session with a Chinese colleague.

The firm later announced three additional co-workers had tested positive for the flu-like virus. It suspended all business trips to and from China for at least two weeks and closed its Stockdorf plant until Feb. 2.

SANGUINE MOOD

One Webasto employee, who declined to give his name but said he was 54 and lived nearby, came out of the building headed for his car. “I picked up my laptop to work from home,” he said.

Was he worried about contracting the virus? “No, I’m not worried. I also don’t know which colleagues have been infected with the virus. One colleague I know went to the doctor with flu symptoms. But that’s normal for this time of year.”

The sanguine mood ran through the village.

“Webasto employees come here for lunch and coffee,” said Ludwig Harter, 33, who runs his family confectionary business with his brother and mother.

“Today, of course, there is less activity than usual. I’m not worried about my health. I have 100 percent confidence in the authorities.”

Outside the local supermarket, pensioner Lore Puhlmann shared Harter’s confidence: “I feel safe really, because I take great care to wash my hands when I come back from shopping.”

In Berlin, the government is planning a special military flight in the coming days to evacuate healthy German citizens from the area around Wuhan in China, the epicenter of the coronavirus epidemic, a Foreign Ministry spokesman said.

Slideshow (2 Images)

There are now some 5,974 confirmed cases in China and 133 people have died. About 60 cases, but no deaths, have been reported in 15 other countries, including Germany.

In Stockdorf, innkeeper Michael Behringer, 52, complains about the lack of business from Webasto workers.

“No one is here today,” he says, but he is not worried about his health. “Disinfection, washing your hands, that’s a given in our restaurant business.”

Writing by Paul Carrel; Editing by Alexandra Hudson

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