Germany’s disease control agency assured the country that it does not expect a new nationwide coronavirus outbreak despite the rate of reproduction rising sharply over the weekend.
Both the measurements Germany’s Robert Koch Institute (RKI) uses to assess the progress of the coronavirus rose well over the value of one on Saturday.
While the 4-day R number, which measures the mean number of people infected by one person, rose to 1.79, the seven-day average – seen as a more reliable indicator of the virus’s progress – also rose to 1.55.
The RKI explained that a small number of local outbreaks were skewing the results. “A nationwide increase in case numbers is not anticipated,” the agency stated.
Angela Merkel has previously said that it is crucial for Germany to keep the R number below 1 in order to prevent hospitals from being overwhelmed.
The most severe outbreak has hit the western town of Gütersloh, where over 1,000 workers at a slaughterhouse have tested positive for the lung infection within a matter of days.
Schools and kindergartens in the 100,000-inhabitant town have already been closed, but local politicians have not ruled out putting the entire town back into lockdown.
Armin Laschet, state leader in North Rhine-Westphalia, where the Tönnies slaughterhouse is situated described the outbreak on Saturday as “the biggest yet” in the state of 18 million people.
“The chain of infections can still be identified,” Mr Laschet said. “But if this changes a sweeping lockdown in the region will be necessary.”
On Sunday Mr Laschet, the frontrunner to take over as leader of Angela Merkel’s CDU party, was facing increasing pressure from political opponents to act.
“Berlin and the federal states agreed upon a limit of 50 new infections a week per 100,000 residents. If this limit doesn’t come into force in Gütersloh now, when will it be used,” said Karl Lauterbach, health spokesman for the Social Democrats.
The Tönnies slaughterhouse has also come in for sustained criticism due to the conditions its employees – many of them eastern Europeans on short term contracts – work and live under.
The virus spread quickly among Romanian and Bulgarian workers who are housed in cramped shared accomodation.
“We can no longer tolerate the fact that people from eastern Europe are being exploited in Germany so that unscrupulous companies make millions in profit,” Labour Minister Hubert Heil of the Social Democrats told a local newspaper.
The Green party have called for supermarkets to boycott Tönnies, which is the largest slaughterhouse serving Germany’s multi-billion euro pork industry.
Residents of Gütersloh unconnected with the company have also been caught up in quarantine measures.
Fire services on Saturday erected fences around residential areas where company employees are housed, preventing anyone from entering or leaving. Some 670 people have now been fenced in. How many work for Tönnies is unclear.
In Göttingen police had to quell violent unrest on Saturday in a high rise building that had been placed under quarantine earlier in the week.
Initial reports suggest that residents had gathered at a fence that had been erected to cordon the building off and were attempting to break out. Police could only prevent people from breaking out via “the sustained usage of teargas,” a spokesperson said.
Residents reportedly threw tyres, pipes, computers and other objects at officers, injuring eight in the process.
City authorities have been criticized for quarantining the entire building, which is situated in a poor part of town, despite less than a fifth of the residents having tested positive for the virus. As many as six people are said to live in one-bedroom apartments in the house.
There are stark regional differences in the spread of the disease in Germany. While it has virtually disappeared from the north, the densely populated west continues to see more cases.