Conditions at meat plants cause COVID-19 outbreak problems in Europe

A protester with a pig mask in front of the headquarters of the Toennies slaughterhouse in Rheda-Wiedenbrück, Germany, when the company ceased production after hundreds of employees became infected with coronavirus. (Ina Fassbender / AFP via Getty Images)
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After Germany emerged relatively vigorously from its national blockage in May, it imposed another regional blockage of coronaviruses plant last week in Gütersloh in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia after a major outbreak of COVID-19 in a meat processing plant.
The infection of over 1,500 workers in the Töennies slaughterhouse forced Prime Minister Armin Laschet to announce a strict ban on the district's 100,000 residents by the end of June.
The 7,000 slaughterhouse workers were instructed to quarantine in their homes, while restaurants, bars, and events remained closed to the rest of the district's residents.
The outbreak, which Laschet calls the "biggest infection event" in Germany, reflects similar outbreaks in May and June in meat processing plants in a number of European countries, including France, Spain, Ireland and the UK.
Last week, a processing plant in West Yorkshire that supplies supermarket giant Asda had to temporarily shut down after around 150 workers became infected with the virus. 2 Sisters Food Group, Britain's largest chicken supplier, also announced that it would close its Anglesey site for two weeks after more than 50 employees tested positive.
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The Gütersloh outbreak is the most recent in a number of cases in slaughterhouses and meat processing plants across Germany. After a plant outbreak in the western city of Cösfeld in May, officials said that poor working conditions among mostly Bulgarian and Romanian migrant workers, including cramped living quarters, were likely to accelerate the spread of the virus.
In Germany, the coronavirus pandemic exposed the terrible working and living conditions of many migrant workers in meat factories and sparked a debate about how the country's addiction to cheap meat supports so-called "modern slavery".
"Workers in the German meat industry very often work through subcontractors, not for the slaughterhouses themselves, and the working conditions at these subcontractors are often very, very bad," Szabolcs Sepsi of the DGB Fair Mobility migrant workers' rights group told Euronews.
In May the German government agreed to reform the meat industry and to ban the use of subcontractors from January 2021. This means that the owners of meat packaging plants and slaughterhouses have to hire their own workers directly, forcing them to take legal responsibility for them instead of transferring responsibility to chains of subcontractors.
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Experts say that the way factory halls and equipment lines are organized can cause the virus to spread faster.
Tara Smith, professor of epidemiology at Kent State University in Ohio, told the BBC that people who "stand next to each other and work hard - because this is a difficult task, of course - and who breathe hard have a chance of spreading viruses from." only one infected person to many who are in the immediate vicinity. "

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