The military was sent to the area of contagion to carry out swabs to Tönnies employees and their families, who live in different cities of Westphalia. All citizens of the area will also be subjected to free tests, and there is the possibility that the costs will be borne by Tönnies itself. Although a regional blockade has so far been ruled out, Laschet – a Christian Democrat politician who could take Angela Merkel’s place – has appealed to all Gütersloh residents to adhere more rigorously to hygiene and spacing rules physical and why they avoid participating in events and meetings with more than 50 people.
In the meantime, Tönnies employees have been placed in a mandatory quarantine, although the situation is complicated. “People need to be provided with food, you have to explain to them in their native language what the problem is,” said Laschet. Furthermore, it cannot be excluded that some sick employees from abroad have already “returned home”. And finally, as there are more than 6,000 people living at around 1300 addresses, it is “damned difficult” to monitor compliance with the quarantine, Laschet said. Hundreds of policemen from all over the country have arrived to improve checks and the arrival in the interpreter area has been agreed with the consulates of Bulgaria, Romania and Poland to explain to people how they should behave.
Local Health Minister Karl-Josef Laumann explained that the spread of the infection outside the slaughterhouse did not occur because the Romanian, Bulgarian and Polish workers of Tönnies have little contact with the rest of the population, due to poor integration : While posing a problem, “this is playing in our favor,” said Laumann. Finally, Laschet and Laumann promised the “best healthcare” for everyone, regardless of whether or not people had insurance in Germany.
In recent weeks, several slaughterhouses in Germany have had to temporarily close due to the presence of COVID-19 among their employees, raising concerns about the working conditions within this type of plant. Some newspapers wrote that the Tönnies case was not an accident, but that the problem is systemic: spaces are limited and employees are always in close contact with each other. To ensure an affordable price for meat, processing companies often save on workers ‘wages (mostly from south-eastern Europe) and subcontract the management of housing and workers’ transport, with very little guarantees.
Not only that: fundamental tasks such as slaughtering and cutting animals are often outsourced at low cost. The NGG union, which represents workers in the food and beverage industry in Germany, spoke of «Shameful and inhuman conditions» in the meat industry: “It is no coincidence that the Tönnies slaughterhouse has become a new hotbed of infections” given that workers employed by subcontractors “have to deal with catastrophic working and living conditions”. Labor Minister Hubertus Heil has in turn declared that trust in the Tönnies company is now “zero” and that it should indeed compensate economically for having “held an entire region hostage” and not having, in fact, , respected the anti COVID-19 standards.