Worst of outbreak is over
EU promises to boost aid package for affected vegetable farmers by €60m
The deadly E coli outbreak appears to be on the decline, Germany's health minister claimed last night.
Daniel Bahr said that, while he could not give an all-clear over the bacterial infection, a fall in the number of new cases gives reason for hope.
Mr Bahr was speaking at a crisis meeting with EU health chief John Dalli and other health officials in Berlin yesterday.
He reiterated that the source of the infection may never been found.
However, the cause of the contamination crisis is still unclear, but health officials have warned against eating cucumbers, tomatoes, lettuce and bean sprouts.
"I cannot yet give an all-clear, but after an analysis of the numbers there's reason for hope," Mr Bahr said. "The numbers are continuously falling, which nonetheless means that there can still be new cases and that one unfortunately has to expect new deaths too, but overall new infections are clearly going down."
Mr Dalli has demanded that German health authorities work more closely with international experts in fighting the deadly epidemic.
"We have to utilise the experience and expertise in all of Europe and even outside of Europe," he told 'Die Welt'.
Outside health experts and German politicians criticised Germany yesterday for a bungled investigation into the world's deadliest E coli outbreak, saying the infections should have been spotted much sooner.
Weeks after the outbreak began on May 2, German officials are still looking for its cause.
Spanish cucumbers were initially blamed, then ruled out after tests showed they had a different strain of E coli.
Earlier in the week investigators pointed the finger at German bean sprouts, only to backtrack a day later when initial tests were negative. The sprouts are still being tested.
Frightened and confused consumers continue to avoid vegetables and fruit in general, with grocery stores in Germany reporting losses of between 30pc and 40pc in sales of fresh produce.
In China, authorities ordered stepped-up health inspections for travellers arriving from Germany to prevent the super-toxic strain from reaching its shores.
Those experiencing nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, diarrhoea or fever should declare themselves to authorities or if already in the country, seek medical attention immediately, Chinese officials said.
Just a day after the European Commission offered €150m to devastated farmers, the EU was forced to increase the aid package by 39pc to €210m.
Dacian Ciolos, the EU agriculture commissioner, said the new aid would repay European producers for losses of €420m caused by Germany's bungled handling of the crisis.
"The priority is to stop the health crisis," he said. "But at the same time we must avoid a situation where entire sectors such as vegetables are unjustly affected by the situation, we cannot abandon the farmers."
Mr Bahr defended Germany's handling of the crisis saying: "The E coli outbreak in Germany is so severe that we have to react very quickly." (© Daily Telegraph, London)