Global report: Germany orders local Covid-19 lockdowns as Spain boosts tourism sector

By Jon Henley

More than 8,000 people have been quarantined in fresh outbreaks of Covid-19 in three areas of Germany, while the most comprehensive study yet on immunity in Sweden showed very few people had developed antibodies.

As governments across Europe continue to ease their restrictions, authorities in North Rhein Westphalia, the southern Berlin district of Neukölln and the central city of Göttingen imposed local lockdowns in an effort to halt the spread of the virus.

About 7,000 people were self-isolating and schools and kindergartens were closed in the western state of North Rhein Westphalia after 657 confirmed cases were discovered at Tönnies, a meat processing plant in Rheda-Wiedenbrück.

The incident is the latest in a series of outbreaks at abattoirs and meat packaging facilities to have exposed the conditions endured by many of the industry’s workers, mainly from southern and eastern Europe, who live in cramped accommodation.

The mayor of Neukölln, Martin Hikel, said authorities were trying to trace the origins of a new cluster of about 70 infections and had placed more than 370 families, many of them Roma, in quarantine. “We still don’t know the full extent of it,” he told Der Spiegel. “It is proof the pandemic is still very much alive.”

In Göttingen, 100 new infections were traced to a residential block of flats, prompting officials to place all 700 residents in quarantine for the next two weeks.

In Sweden, which has adopted a more hands-off approach than most European countries, keeping most schools, restaurants, bars and businesses open, a study indicated that only 6.1% of the population had developed antibodies, well belowthe level required to achieve even partial herd immunity.

Health agency officials have repeatedly denied the country’s strategy was to pursue herd immunity, and have said their policy was intended to slow the virus’s spread sufficiently for the health service to cope rather than suppress it altogether.

“The spread is lower than we thought, but not a lot,” said the country’s chief epidemiologist, Anders Tegnell, who has previously acknowledged that too many Swedes have died and that there were things the country would do differently if faced with the same situation again.

A sign outside a bar in Stockholm
A sign outside a bar in Stockholm. Photograph: Reuters Staff/Reuters

The Spanish government unveiled a €4.3bn (£3.9bn) plan to help the country’s vital tourism sector, which generates 12% of the country’s GDP, as it prepares to welcome visitors from EU and Schengen area countries on Sunday.

The prime minister, Pedro Sánchez, announced a 28-point plan intended to restore confidence in Spain as a safe destination, improve its competitiveness and boost its image abroad. “Spain is opening up for tourism again,” he said.

Under the plan, €200,000 has been spent on 21 health and hygiene guides to help the sector prevent the spread of the virus. New credit lines worth €2.5bn will also be made available, bringing the total amount pledged to the sector to €19.5bn.

Denmark said on Thursday it would allow citizens from EU and Schengen area countries with low infection rates, plus the UK, to enter from 27 June. Sweden and Portugal did not yet meet the criteria, the government said.

Beyond Europe, New York’s mayor, Bill De Blasio, said offices, in-store retail, outdoor dining, hair salons and barbershops would all reopen from Monday as the city enters phase two of its exit from lockdown. Restaurants, cafes and bars serving food may apply to use outdoor public spaces such as pavements, he said.

A waiter provides a customer with hand sanitiser at the Oscar Wilde bar in New York
A waiter provides a customer with hand sanitiser at the Oscar Wilde bar in New York. Photograph: Bloomberg/Getty Images

Elsewhere, the virus continues to spread. Indonesia reported 1,331 new infections, its biggest daily increase since its outbreak started, and 63 more deaths. The country’s death toll now stands at 2,339, the highest in east Asia outside China.

Brazil recorded 1,269 more deaths, bringing its official tally to 46,510, the highest in the world outside the US, and Beijing confirmed 21 new cases, bringing the number of cases in the Chinese capital’s new outbreak to nearly 160.

Wu Zunyou, the chief epidemiologist at China’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said the cluster – traced to the sprawling wholesale food centre of Xinfadi in the south-west of the city – was under control.

The city returned to a level two alert, the second-highest in a four-tier virus emergency response system, prompting curbs on residents’ movements. “The epidemic in Beijing has been brought under control,” Wu said, but “that doesn’t mean the number of cases will turn zero tomorrow or the day after”.

With 10 potential vaccines currently undergoing human trials, the World Health Organization (WHO) hopes hundreds of millions of doses can be produced this year and 2bn by the end of 2021, its chief scientist, Soumya Swaminathan, said on Thursday.

Priority would be given to frontline workers such as medics, those who are vulnerable because of age or other illness, and those who work or live in high-transmission settings such as prisons and care homes, Swaminathan said. She was optimistic but “vaccine development comes with a lot of uncertainty”, she said.

According to the Johns Hopkins university tracker, the virus has now infected nearly 8,400,000 people and killed nearly 450,000.