German auto supplier Webasto SE was the first sign of how the coronavirus outbreak could spread as one China-based employee inadvertently brought COVID-19 to Webasto's headquarters operation near Munich during a visit.
But Webasto's response won praise as it quickly closed its Stockdorf, Germany, site, isolated employees and brought the outbreak under control. On March 4, the maker of sunroof systems, including polycarbonate components, said that all of its employees were out of the hospital. That included workers in China as well as Germany.
"The well-being of our employees was and is our top priority. After we learned about the first cases at Webasto, we immediately initiated various measures such as the 14-day closure of our headquarters in Stockdorf. This worked very well and we were able to prevent the virus from spreading further within the company," Chairman Holger Engelmann said in a news release.
But now Italian officials are blaming the outbreak at Webasto for the coronavirus cases that have overwhelmed the northern part of the country, leading to the country halting travel to and from the region for millions of people.
The Washington Post reported in a March 8 story that virologists at the Luigi Sacco University Hospital in Milan said its tests show that the strain that hit people there closely resembles the one in Germany.
“That virus probably spread more than recognized,” Massimo Galli, head of infectious diseases at the institute, said in the report.