German coronavirus outbreak at abattoir infects more than 1,000

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FRANKFURT (Reuters) - More than 1,000 employees at German meat processing firm Toennies have tested positive for coronavirus, prompting local health authorities to order all 6,500 employees and their families to go into quarantine.

The localised lockdown is a setback for Germany’s reopening strategy. Chancellor Angela Merkel had favoured maintaining lockdown discipline for longer, but eased restrictions following pressure from regional premiers.

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.

Speaking at a press conference on Saturday, the meat company’s proprietor, Clemens Toennies, said the outbreak presented an “existential crisis” for his firm, which has suspended operations as authorities seek to control the outbreak.

“As a company we thought we had done everything right,” Toennies said, adding that his firm had struggled to collect the personal data of employees and contractors so that authorities could trace the outbreak.

“As an entrepreneur I can only apologise. We have caused this and are fully responsible for it,” Toennies said.

The outbreak may force the German state of North Rhine Westphalia to impose a broader lockdown.

The outbreak near Gutersloh was first reported on Wednesday, when 400 workers tested positive. By Friday, that number had doubled to 803 and it climbed further to 1,029 by Saturday.

On Thursday, China banned meat imports from the plant.

Reporting by Edward Taylor; Editing by Christina Fincher