German health officials still do not know the source of an E. coli bacteria outbreak which has killed 16 people, though they said infections had increased dramatically. The pathogen has made more than 1,500 people ill in eight European countries.
The German disease control agency has reported 365 new cases, but the European Union’s Health Commissioner sought to put this in context.
John Dalli said: “According to the latest information we have available from Germany, it appears that the outbreak is on the decline. Fewer people have been hospitalised over the past couple of days than before. Let us also keep in mind that efforts to pinpoint all possible sources of contamination are ongoing. We will consider any ban on any product as disproportionate.”
German authorities at first identified cucumbers imported from Spain as the likely source of the outbreak, but on Tuesday they admitted that further tests on the cucumbers showed that, while contaminated, they did not carry the dangerous bacterial strain responsible for the deaths.
Spain said it was considering legal action. The Minister for Agriculture and Environmental Affairs, Rosa Agular, said: “We demand that Germany assume its responsibility for having caused damage unfairly. We will seek rightful compensation for Spain. The damage caused is considerable. We must get our trade back on track.”
The German consumer protection minister deflected criticism that the government had falsely blamed Spanish imports as the culprit. Authorities in Hamburg said on Tuesday the E. coli found on Spanish cucumbers did not match the killer strain.