On the eve of Germany’s planned relaxation of government-imposed lockdown rules aimed at repressing further spread of the novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2), a spike in infection cases among workers at a meat processing facility in Coesfeld has activated an “emergency mechanism” that will the delay loosening of restrictions in the administrative district until May 18 at the earliest. However
The packing plant has been closed until further notice, while the Münster-headquartered Westfleisch eG Group’s eight other production sites in Northwest Germany remain open for business.
Employing approximately 5,000 people system-wide, the company produces a wide assortment of pork, beef and veal products that range from value-added frozen items to sausage, bacon and fresh convenience SKUs. It operates as a cooperative supplied with inputs from more than 4,000 farmer-owners who breed pigs, cattle and calves. Sales topped €2.8 billion and profits amounted to €10.7 million last year, with 40% of output exported to more than 40 countries.
Reportedly 151 of 200 employees at the plant in Coesfeld have tested positive for Covid-19, the respiratory disease caused by the virus that originated in Wuhan, China late last year and as of May 10 has been attributed to the deaths of 280,000 people globally and 7,395 in Germany. Westfleisch has announced that 13 workers were hospitalized with moderate symptoms, while the others are in quarantine with “mild” symptoms.
According to North Rhine-Westphalia State Health Minister Karl-Josef Laumann, most of the employees who contracted the virus are laborers from Romania and Bulgaria. He added that a smaller outbreak at a meat packing plant in the Ruhr region town of Oer-Erkenschwick has infected 35 members of a 1,250-person workforce.
Elsewhere in Germany, in the northern state of Schleswig-Holstein, 109 workers tested positive at a meat plant in the Bad Bramstedt district of Segeberg. A lockdown will remain intact there until further notice.
Covid-19 Cases at Vion Plant in Netherlands
Meanwhile, across the border in the Netherlands at least 28 mainly Romanian migrants working at a Vion Food Group meat packing plant in Scherpenzeel, Gelderland, have tested positive for coronavirus and are being quarantined on a boat next to an industrial estate in Arnhem. They will remain under care there until recovering from the illness, according to a Telegraaf report posted at the DutchNews.nl website.
The story quoted spokeswoman Nancy Aschman as stating that about 900 of the 1,100 workers at Vion’s Scherpezeel plant are employed on temporary work contracts arranged by staffing agencies. She added that company “is doing all it can to prevent the virus infecting more members of the workforce, and that health experts are sure there is no danger of the virus spreading through eating bacon or other pork products.”