Coronavirus: German district returns to lockdown, as Britain announces restaurants, pubs and hairdressers can reopen


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.

MORE: Follow the latest virus updates

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.

German authorities have reimposed lockdown measures in one district. Picture: Alexander Koerner/Getty Images
media_cameraGerman authorities have reimposed lockdown measures in one district. Picture: Alexander Koerner/Getty Images
People under quarantine stand behind a fence at an apartment building in Verl following a COVID-19 outbreak at a slaughterhouse. Picture: Sean Gallup/Getty Images
media_cameraPeople under quarantine stand behind a fence at an apartment building in Verl following a COVID-19 outbreak at a slaughterhouse. Picture: Sean Gallup/Getty Images

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.

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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.

Schools and child day care centres in the Guetersloh region have also been closed. Picture: Alexander Koerner/Getty Images
media_cameraSchools and child day care centres in the Guetersloh region have also been closed. Picture: Alexander Koerner/Getty Images
A total of 7000 people work at the slaughterhouse. Picture: Alexander Koerner/Getty Images
media_cameraA total of 7000 people work at the slaughterhouse. Picture: Alexander Koerner/Getty Images

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.

The UK service industry went into lockdown during the coronavirus pandemic on March 23. Picture: Leon Neal/Getty Images
media_cameraThe UK service industry went into lockdown during the coronavirus pandemic on March 23. Picture: Leon Neal/Getty Images
British schools are hoping to reopen in September. Picture: Steve Parsons/AFP
media_cameraBritish schools are hoping to reopen in September. Picture: Steve Parsons/AFP

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”.

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People queue for takeaway drinks at The Ship Inn in Folkestone, England. Picture: Gareth Fuller/PA via AP
media_cameraPeople queue for takeaway drinks at The Ship Inn in Folkestone, England. Picture: Gareth Fuller/PA via AP

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.

Tens of thousands of people in Beijing are being tested for the contagion while neighbourhoods have been locked down and schools closed. Picture: Wang Zhao/AFP
media_cameraTens of thousands of people in Beijing are being tested for the contagion while neighbourhoods have been locked down and schools closed. Picture: Wang Zhao/AFP

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.

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“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



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