The virus has infected more than 1,500 workers – most of whom are from Romania and Bulgaria – at the site in Gütersloh, with thousands more in the local area being told to self-isolate after coming into contact with infected people.
In addition, local authorities have closed schools and childcare facilities in the local region for the remainder of June, in a bid to clampdown on the spread of the disease.
Now Germany’s labor minister Hubertus Heil has said that the region was ‘taken hostage’ by the outbreak – and that the factory must be held responsible for failing to protect its employees.
The slaughterhouse is run by German meat giant Tönnies. According to Heil, public trust in the company is ‘precisely zero’. He accused Tönnies of putting the health of its workers at risk, as well as the health of the general public.
As a result of the outbreak, local authorities are considering a new lockdown and curfew to try and prevent further spread of the virus.
‘We can only apologize’
Speaking at a recent press conference, a spokesperson for Tönnies said it has worked ‘intensively’ to ‘keep the virus out of the company’.
Tönnies has speculated that many of its workers traveled home to Romania and Bulgaria for a recent long weekend, and brought the virus from there into Germany.
The spokesperson added: “We can only apologize.”
But health authorities have accused Tönnies of not taking measures to protect workers, including contravening physical distancing regulations.
In addition, according to reports, Tönnies has been reluctant to give [authorities] access to workers’ contact details – though ‘Tönnies said delays in handing over personnel data had been due to Germany’s strict data protection laws’.