Swisttal · On Saturday, the Health Department had a swab test carried out on 323 people at a fruit-growing farm in Swisttal after a Romanian seasonal worker was diagnosed with corona virus. There are now 19 more cases on the farm.
The season of open field strawberries could be over for the Fruchthof of Ralf and Irmgard Hensen between Swisttal-Ollheim and Dom-Esch this year. At least that is what the fruit grower himself fears. Work on the farm has been suspended since Saturday, after it became known that one of the harvest helpers is infected with the corona virus.
Since Monday morning, the test results of the remaining 323 employees are known: 19 are positive. This was announced by Rainer Meilicke, head of the district health department. "All measures are now being taken on site to separate the infected from the non-infected", said district director Svenja Udelhoven.
However, all employees are under quarantine because the authorities assume that they are practically all contact persons. "During the harvest and at the packing belts, people stand very close together," explained Meilicke. He emphasised that the result of the swab test taken on Saturday was only a snapshot. "This means that we don't know whether there are, for example, convalescents among them who were infected earlier. In addition, we now have to wait for the results of the second test to see whether the virus may have been passed on."
On Thursday: Second mass test at the arboretum
These tests are to be carried out this Thursday by the mobile swab team from Rheinbach. The results will be available on Saturday at the earliest, and are awaited in particular by those who wanted to leave last weekend. With very few exceptions, these are harvest workers from Romania, confirmed Meilicke. "The conditions on the farm were basically exemplary", he said. Hygienic conditions were well taken care of. In the accommodation facilities, two harvest workers were accommodated in each room in the container facilities. These had been disinfected again.
So how was the virus introduced? Meilicke and his team have a hunch. Most of the temporary workers arrived about seven weeks ago. At that time, they all had been tested in their home countries before departure. Only those who had a negative result were allowed to come to Germany by plane. Then, however, additional helpers were requested. And these came by private car. Meilicke: "On such a long car journey you can catch the virus somewhere."
The quarantine order applies to all harvest workers and the entire farm. 16 helpers are housed outside. Individual orders have been issued for them. "Nobody may leave the farm, nobody may enter it", said Meilicke. At present, solutions are being sought to meet the wishes of those who wish to return home. To do this, the second series of tests would also have to be negative.
According to Swisttal's mayor Petra Kalkbrenner, consideration is also being given to what happens to the ripe strawberries in the fields. Harvesting, processing and delivery of the fruit can only be resumed when all further tests are negative and the sufferers have recovered. Only one of the 20 people affected showed symptoms, it was said. "Maybe there are volunteers from the population who could help with the harvest," she said.
When the infection became known, all work was immediately stopped. Even the already packaged goods were not allowed to leave the farm, although according to Meilicke "the strawberry as a carrier of the virus is not known". As reported, the corona virus case had only become known after a seasonal worker at the fruit farm was admitted to the Marien-Hospital in Euskirchen because of a stroke. The woman from Romania, who has been in Swisttal since 5 June, tested positive for Sars-CoV-2 at the clinic. She had no symptoms. On Thursday evening, the Hensens immediately reported the case to the district health office. Since Friday everyone has been under quarantine.
"We don't know at this time how to proceed," said Rudolf Hensen, who, like his wife, tested negative. When the fruit started to rot, they infected the others. "We followed all the rules of the game, and then the virus got us after all," he said. Normally the outdoor season lasts until early October, but if the plants start rotting now, he can only plough them under. For Kalkbrenner, the farm is one of the most important in their community. That's why every help is needed.
(Original text: Dylan Cem Akalin / Translation: Mareike Graepel)