MENDEN, Germany (Reuters) - A German town has turned a gymnastics hall into a facility to hold potential offenders against quarantine rules that stipulate a 14-day isolation period for those who test positive for the coronavirus and those who come into contact with them.
Equipped with 20 camping beds, mattresses, and toilets stacked with toilet paper - an increasingly hard-to-find commodity, the hall in the western town of Menden is empty for now. But council head Sebastian Arlt said he was open about who the facility might be used for.
"We might house the homeless. It might also be used as additional capacity for hospitals if we have a situation like in Spain or France, if hospitals simply run out of space," he said, standing in a hall that looked more like an army training facility than a gymnastics hall.
"Or it could be used to house people who repeatedly defy the quarantine and deliberately put others in danger of being infected," he added. "Then we could forcibly house them here."
Germany has recorded some 43,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus and 253 deaths. The government will need bed and intensive care capacity in hospitals should thousands of people need medical attention after contracting the virus.
Restaurants, malls, gyms, cinemas and all non-essential businesses have been shut, and people have been instructed to stay at home unless they have to run essential errands or buy food. People have also been advised to stay 1.5 metres apart.
Chancellor Angela Merkel has been in quarantine since Sunday after visiting a doctor who subsequently tested positive for the virus.
Arlt said statistics in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia where Menden is located suggest that one if five people are not abiding by the quarantine rules.
"The gym is fitted out like that to show quite plainly what happens to people who do not obey the rules," he said. "We will use all methods available, and if we reach the conclusion that the situation will improve only if we use force, then we will do so with help from the police."
(Reporting by Reuters TV; Writing by Joseph Nasr; Editing by Hugh Lawson)
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