Marginalised groups and other “challenging” sectors are to become a new frontline of the battle against Covid-19.
While the overall daily number of new cases reported on Thursday fell to its lowest level in over six weeks, a greater focus is planned on areas where the virus continues to circulate at significant levels.
Minister for Health Simon Harris will on Friday open a new Covid-19 assessment hub at the Mater Hospital in Dublin to work specifically with marginalised groups in the inner city.
Some 58 per cent of Roma who have undergone testing, and 43 per cent of Travellers, have had a positive result, according to official figures. The overall positivity rate for all people tested has fallen to under 4 per cent.
The new hub will include a mobile unit to test and treat marginalised groups across the inner city, and will be able to deliver test results in under an hour.
The situation in meat factories, detention centres and other locations where virus “hot-spots” have been identified will be examined by the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) at its meeting on Friday.
A similar blanket testing approach to that carried out on staff and residents in nursing homes may be taken in other settings with high concentrations of the disease. There are now 176 cases among asylum seekers in direct provision centres, almost twice the previously disclosed figure, officials said.
Today’s meeting of NPHET will also consider whether to issue new recommendations in relation to passengers coming into the State. Over one-third of passengers arriving at Dublin Airport and a quarter of those coming in at Dublin Port who were asked to self-isolate did not respond to follow-up check calls, it emerged on Thursday.
Chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan said that as the date of easing of restrictions from May 18th approaches, travel measures will become more important.
The deaths of another 29 patients were announced by NPHET at its briefing on Thursday. There have now been 1,403 Covid-19 related deaths in the Republic.
Lowest daily figure
The 137 new cases of the disease reported is the lowest daily figure since March 22nd. They bring the total number of cases to 22,385. A large proportion of the new cases are occurring in nursing homes and other residential care facilities, where numbers rose 115 on the previous day.
The reproduction number of the disease, a measure of how many other people an infected person goes on to infect, now stands at 0.5-0.6. Dr Holohan said this showed the goal of suppressing the virus has been achieved.
Prof Philip Nolan, chair of the NPHET modelling advisory group, warned if the reproduction number were to rise again to 1.6, "we'd be back to 1,000 cases a day in three weeks' time."
Dr Holohan played down suggestions by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar that the virus may have been circulating in Ireland as long ago as last December.
Almost 400 people had been tested before the first positive result came back, he pointed out. If an appreciable level of virus had been circulating, “it would have been picked up”.