Editor’s note: Webasto issued this press release on its conclusions a day after this story was published.
German auto supplier Webasto disputes media reports linking it to Italy's fast-growing coronavirus outbreak that is blamed for more than 360 deaths in the country.
In January the roof-systems maker was hit with an outbreak that infected 16 employees but was contained. Webasto's efforts had been held up as an example of how to stop the virus through rapid testing and isolation.
Virologists at the Luigi Sacco University Hospital in Milan, however, have tested the sequences of the virus in Italy. They closely match those from the Webasto outbreak, Massimo Galli, head of infectious diseases at the hospital, told the Washington Post.
“That virus probably spread more than recognized,” Galli said of the cluster in Bavaria.
He explained to the Post that a person infected with the virus then probably traveled from Germany to Lombardy, the region of Italy hit hardest by the virus, in late January, and it spread undetected in the community for at least two or three weeks.
Webasto questions that conclusion because the Chinese and German employees who contracted the virus in January never traveled to Italy, a spokeswoman for the company told Automotive News Europe.
In addition, Webasto decided to close its headquarters near Munich from Jan. 28 until Feb. 12 as a precaution to prevent the further spread of the virus.
At that time, the employees with the virus were treated at hospitals in China and Germany until they no longer had the illness, the spokeswoman said. She added that employees who tested negative for the virus were not allowed to travel for business during the office closure.
All people who had direct contact with the infected Webasto employees were were asked to self-quarantine at home for two weeks. If they tested negative for the virus at the end of that period they could leave quarantine.
She said the company has not be given notice that any additional employees either its headquarters or its other worldwide locations have tested positive for the virus. In addition, she said there is an ongoing debate on the original source of virus in Italy on social media platforms such as Twitter involving medical professionals in Germany and the U.S.