An entire district of Germany has been plunged back into lockdown following a massive outbreak of coronavirus at a meatpacking plant.
The return of restrictions in North Rhine-Westphalia, comes as the country’s virus reproduction rate – known as ‘R’ – has spiked to 2.76 and sparked fears of a second wave.
A reproduction rate of 2.76 means that 100 people who have contracted the virus infect, on average, 276 others.
Cinemas, museums, concert halls, bars, gyms, swimming pools and saunas will now be shut down in the district of Guetersloh, as they were back in March when the pandemic first took hold.
The restrictions will impact 360,000 people and remain in place until at least June 30.
“For the first time in Germany, we will return an entire district to the measures that applied several weeks ago,” the region’s state premier, Armin Laschet, said.
“We will lift the measure as soon as possible, when we have certainty about the safety of the infection … It is a preventative measure,” he added.
The announcement comes after more than 1,500 workers tested positive for the coronavirus at a slaughterhouse in the town of Rheda-Wiedenbrueck.
The outbreak in Germany’s most populous state is the biggest since the country began lifting the lockdown in early May.
Several outbreaks at slaughterhouses, not just in Germany but also in France, have put a spotlight on the working and housing conditions facing the workers – many of whom come from Romania or Bulgaria.
But Germany has also seen new coronavirus clusters in residential buildings in Lower Saxony and Berlin, where 370 families living in high-rise flats were placed under quarantine in one neighbourhood last week.
With new infection rates sharply down from highs in March and a death toll significantly lower than those of its neighbours, Germany became the first major EU country to begin easing virus restrictions about seven weeks ago.
But Chancellor Angela Merkel has repeatedly warned against complacency before a viable vaccine is found.
Meanwhile, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has announced pubs, restaurants and hotels can reopen in England early next month when the two-metre social distancing rule is relaxed down to one metre.
“Given the significant fall in the prevalence of the virus we can change the two-metre social distancing rule from the 4th of July,” Mr Johnson told parliament on Tuesday.
The change will also allow two households to meet in any setting, as well as hairdressers, places of worship, most leisure facilities and tourist attractions to reopen, as long as they adhere to new COVID safety guidelines.
“We are today publishing guidance on how businesses can reduce the risk by taking certain steps to protect workers and customers,” Mr Johnson said.
“These include, for instance, avoiding face-to-face seating by changing office layouts, reducing the number of people in enclosed spaces, improving ventilation, using protective screens and face coverings, closing non-essential social spaces, providing hand sanitiser and changing shift patterns so that staff work in set teams”.
People should also still keep two metres apart, if possible, he said.
“Where it is possible to keep two metres apart people should. But where it is not, we will advise people to keep a social distance of ‘one metre plus’, meaning they should remain one metre apart, while taking mitigations to reduce the risk of transmission,” he said.
Nightclubs, indoor gyms and swimming pools will remain closed.
Mr Johnson’s Conservative government is desperate to restart the stalled British economy, but some scientists are worried that the government is reopening the economy too fast and that a track-and-trace system meant to quickly stamp out any outbreaks is not fully functional.
The number of daily deaths and new infections in the UK has fallen significantly from its April peak, but the country is still confirming 1,000 or more new COVID-19 cases a day.
“This is far too premature,” said David King, a former chief scientific adviser to the government. “To come out of (lockdown) too early is extremely risky”.
Britain has Europe’s highest death toll from the virus, with almost 42,700 confirmed dead. That is also the third-highest death toll in the world after the United States and Brazil, which both have much larger populations. The real toll from the virus is expected to be much higher.
Figures released on Tuesday by the Office for National Statistics show both the scale of the outbreak in Britain and its retreat.
The office said there were 1,114 deaths involving the coronavirus in England and Wales in the week to June 12, the lowest number for nine weeks.
The total number of weekly deaths from all causes also fell but remains 5.9 per cent higher than the five-year average.
The total number of excess deaths in the UK since the outbreak began stands at more than 65,000. Excess deaths are are widely considered to be the best gauge of the virus’ impact as they provide a clear guide over historical periods and include all-cause mortality.
WHO spokeswoman Margaret Harris urged the British government to be cautious.
“The UK has brought a very difficult outbreak right down,” she told the BBC. “Very good news in the last couple of days about the limitation in cases, and far, far fewer people dying. So now is the moment to celebrate that by being super careful.”
The measures announced by Mr Johnson apply only in England. Other parts of the UK – Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland – are all following slightly different lockdown plans.
In China, 249 people have now been infected with the virus in Beijing following at outbreak at the city’s sprawling Xinfadi wholesale food centre.
The capital’s testing capacity has now been expanded to allow for more than 300,000 swabs per day compared with 40,000 in March, Zhang Hua, deputy director at the BeijingMunicipal Health Commission, told reporters.
Beijing took samples from 2.95 million people between June 12 and June 22, he said.
“The strategy of Beijing’s nucleic acid screening is mainly based on the level of risk and on severity,” Zhang said.
“We’ll give priority to testing high-risk groups in Xinfadi and other markets involved in the outbreak as well as surrounding communities.
“On this basis, we’ve tested workers in restaurants, supermarkets, marketplaces, as well as residents in high-risk neighbourhoods. Food delivery workers and parcel couriers have also undergone large-scale testing.”
Originally published as Town in lockdown after meat fiasco