Coronavirus: No further deaths and 57 confirmed cases reported in State
Incidence of Covid-19 in Ireland surpasses UK rate for first time as face mask rules come in
Another 57 cases of Covid-19 have been reported in the State as the incidence of the virus in the Republic surpassed that of the UK for the first time since the pandemic started.
The National Public Health Emergency Team reported no further coronavirus-related deaths on Monday, leaving the death toll in the Republic at 1,772.
The 57 further cases bring the total number of confirmed cases here to 26,768.
The 14-day incidence of the disease has increased sevenfold in the State in the space of three weeks, to reach 16.9 cases per 100,000 of population, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control said in an update on Monday.
This compares to a figure of 16.5 in the UK, which a month ago had an incidence almost eight times that of Ireland. Since then, case numbers in the UK have been steady, although on Sunday they exceeded 1,000 for the first time since June.
The spike in cases in the State has largely been driven by clusters involving staff working in meat processing factories in Kildare and Offaly and has prompted the introduction of local movement restrictions in the counties as well as in Laois.
Figures provided to The Irish Times on Monday by the Department of Health show the 14-day incidence of Covid-19 in Co Kildare stands at 138.4 cases per 100,000 of population, almost eight times the national average. The rates in Offaly and Laois stood at 109 and 83.8 respectively while the national rate for the period was 17.5 cases per 100,000 people, the department said.
Dr Ronan Glynn, acting chief medical officer, said while the number of cases was lower than on some days over the past fortnight, it was too early to tell if this was the beginning of a sustained trend downwards.
The pandemic continued to be a national problem and while NPHET was not considering any other localised lockdowns at present, there was no way of knowing what the trends in cases would be in the days and weeks ahead.
“We’re going to have ups and downs in the next week, and it’s really only after that we can assess the effectiveness of the measures,” he said of the three-county lockdown.
While there were no new cases in Laois over the past 24 hours, there had been 71 new cases in the county over the past 14 days, or 83 cases per 100,000 people. He also cautioned against the “blame narrative” he had witnessed of late around the spread of the virus.
“There is no blame attached to contracting or spreading the virus. We are still in control of this,” he said, adding the infection could spread very quickly but people in Ireland could still “take measures to arrest that”.
Asked about reports of charges of up to €50, for out of hours Covid-19 testing, Dr Glynn said “no-one should have to pay… they should be able to get tested without any charge.”
While the rate of infection in Ireland was set to pass that of the UK, Dr Glynn said if counties Kildare, Laois and Offaly were removed from the national figures, Ireland’s rate was “less than 10 per 100,000” over the past 14 days “which is significantly lower than that of the UK”.
Asked why four food processing plants, where clusters have been confirmed, were allowed to remain open or choose themselves to close while hundreds of other businesses in the counties of Kildare, Laois and Offaly had been forced to close, Dr Glynn said he accepted the lockdown measures were “a blunt instrument” and were “not nuanced”.
He also accept that ordering many businesses to close while not including the process plants in list of companies told to close could be seen as undermining the public health messaging being directed at over 400,000 in the three counties.
Dr Glynn said he could “fully appreciate the frustration of other businesses in the region” but we have to “rely on the local knowledge and the expertise” of public health teams that had been in situ at the plants and were working closely with them. In the case of one plant, there had been just nine cases of infection.
One of the affected meat plants, Carroll’s Cuisine in Tullamore, Co Offaly, announced on Monday it was suspending operations. Nine workers at the plant have tested positive for the disease and more than 200 of its staff were tested on Sunday.
“We note that a number of Government and health service sources have said factories should close wherever there are any cases of Covid. However, it’s essential that while closures may be envisaged, the industry will need to continue in operation to supply food and facilities will need to reopen once any particular situation is contained and brought under control,” the company’s chief executive Kieran Carolan said in a statement. “Clear guidance is required on the measures, procedures and roadmap envisaged by the Government in this regard.”
Earlier, Minister of State Seán Fleming, a Laois-Offaly TD, said that if the company “doesn’t do the right thing” and close then the State should take action.
“I am calling on them to close, to show solidarity with the local community,” he told RTÉ Radio’s Today with Sarah McInerney show. “I expect that before this day is out that this factory will close. Three out of the four have done the right thing.”
Kildare Chilling in Kildare town, which had registered 150 cases, and O’Brien Fine Foods in Timahoe, with 86 cases, have suspended production, while Irish Dog Foods in Naas, where 53 cases have been reported, has delayed plans to reopen.
Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said politicians calling for businesses to close was not helpful and that a culture of blame should be avoided in relation to the pandemic.
Siptu and Meat Industry Ireland on Monday agreed to contact the health service about putting in place improvements to the Covid-19 testing system for staff in the sector.
Meanwhile, regulations making face coverings mandatory in shops and other indoor public settings such as hairdressers and museums are now in force.
Similar to the regulations requiring people to wear face masks on public transport, those in breach of the rules can be fined up to €2,500 or face six months imprisonment.
The regulations apply to shops, supermarkets, shopping centres, retail outlets, hairdressers, nail bars, museums, libraries, and cinemas. The requirement does not extend to restaurants, bars, cafes, or post offices, credit unions and banks. Premises providing healthcare services such as opticians or dentists are also exempt.