HAMBURG (Reuters) – A huge German slaughterhouse and meat packing plant at the centre of a coronavirus outbreak cannot reopen until authorities are satisfied with its hygiene procedures, the chief executive of the Guetersloh district said on Tuesday.
Some 600,000 people in Guetersloh, in the western state of North Rhine-Westphalia, were forced back into lockdown on June 23 after more than 1,500 workers at the Toennies slaughterhouse and meat packing plant tested positive for COVID-19.
Sven-Georg Adenauer said in a news conference broadcast online that the plant could only be reopened if there is “no threat to the people who work in this company and also not to the people in the Guetersloh region”.
The company had presented a hygiene plan to authorities that went in the right direction but “still needs work and I believe the company will undertake this”, he said, adding it was still not possible to say when the plant would reopen.
The outbreak sparked a national debate about whether consumers should be prepared to pay more for meat to improve standards in German meat packing plants.
The plant has provisionally been ordered to close up to July 17, Adenauer said. Health and safety officials continue to inspect it and negotiate with the company over the new hygiene plan. Another round of assessments will be made on Thursday.
Toennies did not have immediate comment. The company has previously apologised and said it is working closely with authorities on a hygiene plan to achieve a reopening.
The Guetersloh plant normally slaughters and processes between 12% to 14% of Germany’s pigs and the closure is causing disruption to pig farmers, the Association of German pig farmers said.
On Monday, a court ordered an end to the lockdown in Guetersloh.
(Reporting by Michael Hogan, Editing by Catherine Evans)