COVID-19 / local news / to remember(?)

Dear All

Today I like to write you about the current outbreak of infections with Corona virus in Germany, because the initial cluster was found 30 km southeast of my place of writing. I guess that the news about the outbreak may have reached many of you.

Since yesterday the local district (Kreis Gütersloh, 365.000 people, 970 km²) is closed down; that is, contact limitations are the same as they have been end March. About 700.000 people are directly concerned in two districts of the region. In the two biggest urban centres (together 150.000 inhabitants) live about 1000 infected persons (identified 23rd June). Without stretching the similarities too much; we witness an attempt to confine to a region a localised outbreak as it was tried in Lombardi some months ago.

Here some features:

It is the second localised outbreak in the region that has its trigger in a meat processing plant. The difference is in the scale. The current outbreak is an order of magnitude bigger. Currently, about 1500 infected persons of a staff of 7500. The factory in Rheda-Wiedenbrück (47.000 inhabitants) belongs to the Tönnies group, (the personal wealth of the owner family is several billion euro). Within the factory (~20% of German capacity of industrial butchery) some days ago some production lines showed three infected persons for four workers.

To handle regional outbreaks the Governments of the German Länder and the Federal State did agree that ‘regional contact restrictions etc.’ are needed if the (official) number of infected people are bigger than 50 cases during the last seven days for a population of 100.000 inhabitants; subject to the feature that the outbreak is not highly localised. The political debate of the last days was about whether the outbreak is local.

The outbreak got suspected at 16th June. Measures corresponding to a ‘regional outbreak’ were taken at 23rd June. The regional season for the summer holidays starts next week with the regular summer breaks of schools. Currently, there is no ban on travel outward from the district although some German regions have issued bans for holiday seekers coming from the two local district in Germany (for example, identifiable by the plate of their car) that do not test negative (free testing is offered). Within the next days we will learn about local, regional, or over-spilling character of the outbreak.

Among the socio-economic features of the local outbreak are:

  1. highest incidence was in a production line with cold environment (4°C) and recirculated air;
  2. work force was mainly placed by external providers, who recruit people from Bulgaria, Romania and Poland;
  3. Such ‘external staff’ legally does not count as staff of the Tönnies factory and it is not subject to labour laws that apply for the factory (for example, continuation of pay if the person is ill);
  4. formally, the ‘external provider’ shall comply with German laws (time recording, etc.) and not the factory;
  5. the ‘external staff’ is highly mobile (between countries, places, production plants);
  6. the places of living (houses, flats) for the ‘external staff’ in Germany often is manged by the ‘external providers’, are used intensively, and people may not be registered at place of living;
  7. overall, the concerned factory of the Tönnies group is managed in a manner that on its premise is neither a group of a trade union nor a works council (Betriebsrat);
  8. the factory targets the high-volume low-value production segment;
  9. in my town (21.000 inhabitants) live about 20 persons who work at the Tonnies factory in Rheda-Wiedenbrück (therefore, ~65 persons are in quarantine here);
  10. the regional economic structure is shaped by (relatively) small towns with, compared to their seize, a small number of industrial plants.

I leave it to you, to observe and analyse. My preliminary lesson: (i) the outbreak is home made, (ii) it is caused by the systemic socio-political features, (iii) one case more showing that lack of participatory features ease system failures (here: lack of work council)


Thank you for sharing this @martin

Very hard to disagree.

This looks like the clearest example yet of fragility induced by, for want of a better word, a neoliberal organization of production.

If we take a critical value theory position, we see that this factory is not producing anything of value. Unhealthy, probably bad-tasting food. In return for which, we have to accept all this added fragility. Complete, utter madness.

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