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Germany: Laschet Comments on Corona Outbreak in North Rhine-Westphalia

The First Minister of North Rhine-Westphalia blamed “Romanians and Bulgarians” for a serious Corona outbreak at the Tönnies meat factory near Gütersloh today. Hundreds of workers are infected and more than 7,000 people are in quarantine now.

Laschet was being asked what the Corona outbreak said about the easing of Corona restrictions he recently was a proponent of. His answer was that there was no connection whatsoever between the two aspects “because Romanians and Bulgarians entered, and that is where the virus comes from.”

‘Catastrophic Conditions’

“This will happen everywhere. We have similar rules in all of Germany”, the First Minister added. Laschet mentioned other recent outbreaks at an asparagus farm in Bavaria and at a slaughterhouse in Coesfeld. Those situations had developed because of the conditions in accommodations and those at the factories the guest workers worked at, he stated.

According to German-language media reports, the Labor Ministry in North Rhine-Westphalia has checked many accommodations for guest workers and encountered “catastrophic conditions”. It is not the first time reports of this kind surface. The federal state’s Health Minister Laumann was quoted saying, because of profit maximization, those responsible were playing with people’s health.

Fungus and Rats

The issues at accommodations guest workers live in include mold fungus, the lack of any form of hygiene, “catastrophic lavatories”, rats and a risk of collapse for entire buildings. In Berlin, politicians of several parties have criticized this kind of exploitation of workers many of whom are Eastern Europeans.

Because of the situation around Gütersloh, kindergartens and schools in the entire county were closed by the authorities, until after the summer vacations. To the affected persons, this is almost like a new lockdown in that region, three months after parts of North Rhine-Westphalia were hit hard by the Coronavirus, at the beginning of the crisis. Many people died of Covid-19 back then.

Company Apologizes

Tönnies is the largest meat company in Germany. It apologized for the situation. A representative said a lot of effort was being put into resolving the issues. The authorities in Gütersloh said they did not have a choice but to put many people in quarantine.

The situation in Berlin’s Neukölln district is not improving either. In several apartment buildings, at least 70 persons are infected with the Coronavirus. Hundreds are in quarantine. Most of the residents are Romanians. The local health authority is working on the issue with its entire staff.

Testing Continues

One of the challenges is to explain the situation to the residents. Convincing some of them to accept the quarantine they are in is another. At least one affected inhabitant who cannot work from home has been offered compensation. More inhabitants in several apartment buildings are still being tested.

The nationalities of the guest workers affected are obviously not the reason for the outbreak in North Rhine-Westphalia, but the conditions they live and work in. But individuals from south-eastern Europe often accept jobs of this kind because of the difficult situation in their home countries. What the outbreak in Berlin is concerned, the authorities believe people may have been infected at an indoor prayer service.

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