Germany faces a growing summer holiday standoff as federal states roll up the welcome mat for holidaymakers from the country’s largest coronavirus hotspot.
Some 640,000 Westphalians in western Germany find themselves back in lockdown after 1,500 people working in a local meat processing plant tested positive for Covid-19.
As workers and their families isolate in quarantine, and 100 teams track the virus spread, public life in the counties of Gütersloh and Warendorf has ground to a halt once more. Schools, childcare, bars, restaurants, gyms and museums have been closed and citizens ordered to limit contact to fellow household members.
Local politicians, mindful of the start of summer holidays in the state this weekend, have sent mixed signals on wider travel. North Rhine-Westphalian premier Armin Laschet has said trips for those in lockdown beyond the state, though not banned, are not recommended.
“I would warn against stigmatising people from these counties,” he said on German television, noting that only 32 people other than meat factory workers had tested positive.
Local health officials have linked the factory virus spread to an air conditioning system that redirected unfiltered air throughout the facility.
Three other German federal states, fearing a super-spreader event, have ignored Mr Laschet’s pleas and opted to impose their own restrictions.
The north-eastern state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, a popular destination with 2,000km of Baltic coastline, has ordered at least 56 holidaymakers from Gütersloh to leave the state. Any further arrivals will be expelled, state officials added, because local restrictions forbid hotels taking in anyone from a Covid-19 hotspot.
Last April’s proposals to reopen Germany included an emergency brake, requiring a lockdown if more than 50 people per 100,000 in any county or district tested positive for the virus. In Gütersloh, the number of positive cases on Wednesday was more than six times that limit.
Bavaria, another popular holiday destination, has imposed its own ban on visitors from the Westphalian region, unless they can produce a recent, negative Covid-19 test.
“We don’t want that a holiday in Bavaria comes with uncertainty for people,” said Markus Söder, the state premier, expressing surprise that formal travel restrictions had yet to be imposed.
Lower Saxony is preparing its own ban on tourists from the hotspots in neighbouring North Rhine-Westphalia, amid reports of a virus outbreak in some of its own meat and poultry plants.
On Wednesday, Austria increased its travel warning for North Rhine-Westphalia to its second-highest level, advising its citizens against non-essential trips to the state.
While local officials in Gütersloh have criticised the restrictions on its citizens as “discriminatory”, one of Germany’s leading virologists has said the outbreak there is a taste of what’s to come in a second wave.
Prof Christian Drosten, a coronavirus specialist and driver of Germany’s early testing regime, said: “In two months, I think we’re going to have a problem if we don’t turn on all the alarm sensors again now.”
Despite his warning, Berlin’s city-state government has announced a further relaxation of its restrictions from Saturday.
From the weekend, no more limits apply to the size of groups that can gather in public in the German capital while beauty studios and tattoo parlours can reopen with hygiene measures. Still closed are clubs and discos, saunas and brothels.
From August 1st, up to 500 participants will be allowed to meet in closed rooms, rising to 1,000 by October. Outdoor events with up to 5,000 people will be permitted from September.
Berlin has also announced new fines of up to €500 for people who flout mask rules on public transport.