Coronavirus: Number of tests carried out in State exceeds 500,000

Two more deaths confirmed and 23 new cases reported

A commuter wearing a facemask on a Dublin Bus in Dublin’s city centre. Photo:Gareth Chaney/Collins

A commuter wearing a facemask on a Dublin Bus in Dublin’s city centre. Photo:Gareth Chaney/Collins

 

Two additional deaths from Covid-19 and 23 new confirmed cases of the disease were reported by Department of Health on Saturday.

It brings the death toll from the disease in the State to 1,746 and the total number of known cases of infection to 25,611.

The Department of Health said the State had now carried out more than 500,000 Covid-19 tests. The figure as of Saturday at 3pm was 500,578.

Almost 9,000 were carried out on Friday and 46,255 over the last week.

Currently there are 10 Covid-19 patients in intensive care and 13 in hospital as a result of the disease.

The figures come amid concern over an increase in Covid-19 clusters following the easing of the lockdown.

A cluster of Covid-19 cases among a large group of young people who “partied” in rented accommodation in Killarney last weekend is being investigated by public health, GPs have been told.

Over 30 people travelled from “different parts of the country” to Killarney and stayed a number of days together, according to a letter sent to general practitioners throughout the region on Friday.

The National Public Health Emergency Team said on Thursday that cases were increasingly occurring among young people and giving rise to clusters of the disease across the State.

Acting chief medical officer Dr Ronan Glynn said a “good number” of recent cases were related to travel, and to “groups having met up”.

A cluster is defined by health authorities as two cases or more from the same location.

Meanwhile, calls have been made for additional Garda resources to police the use of mandatory face coverings on public transport from Monday after bus and rail drivers said they would not be responsible for enforcement of the new measure.

When a passenger is not wearing a face covering, drivers can refuse the person access to the train or bus. A passenger must comply with these requests or with a refusal of entry. Failure to comply is an offence.

The Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly said the wearing of masks on public transport “is a sign of solidarity to your friends and family, your health service and their staff who continue to be at the frontline of this crisis and solidarity to your country as we all continue in our efforts to suppress this disease.”

The Minister for Transport Eamon Ryan said there had generally speaking been a good level of compliance on public transport with the wearing of mask, but making it mandatory will make it safer for everyone.

Minister of State for Trade Robert Troy said he couldn’t say whether additional staff would be required to police the regulations but he would discuss the matter with Cabinet colleagues.

Asked on RTÉ Radio’s Saturday with Cormac Ó hEadhra who would enforce the new measure, Mr Troy said drivers had the right to ask someone to leave the bus if they were not complying with the regulations and if that person refused to leave the bus the Garda could be called.

“The bus driver can ring the gardaí to come and enforce somebody to get off public transport if they refuse to get off it,” Mr Troy said.

The Fianna Fáil TD said the guidance was clear and he criticised those who were “trying to bring ambiguity” to it.

However, Sinn Féin TD Pearse Doherty said the public needed “clear guidance” on how the measure was going to work, who would police it, whether there would be spot checks, and whether the Garda had been given the proper resources.

“The drivers don’t police the law. That’s like saying the shopkeeper is there to police someone who is robbing their shop. That’s not the case.”

Confusion surrounding enforcement would undermine the public health measure, Mr Doherty added.

The National Bus and Rail Union (NBRU) has welcomed the new regulations, which it said it had been seeking for some time.

However, NBRU general secretary Dermot O’Leary said his members would not be policing the mandatory wearing of face coverings. He pointed to the case of a French bus driver who died after being attacked by passengers who allegedly refused to wear face masks.

Under the new rules, gardaí can be called to enforce if someone fails to wear a face covering. If they continue not to co-operate, they can face arrest and prosecution, with a penalty for a conviction of up to €2,500 fine and/or six months in jail.

As to what constitutes a face covering, the director of the national virus reference laboratory Dr Cillian de Gascun said a scarf covering the face was acceptable as “a short term fix” but less effective than a face mask.

Meanwhile, there is growing concern that many tourists arriving into Ireland are not complying with the recommended 14-day quarantine.

Dr de Gascun said the introduction of a mandatory quarantine would be a Government decision but “we would prefer not to make things mandatory if we can”.

He said: “We are also telling people from overseas, in essence, that while we want them to visit the country at some point in time we don’t want that time to be now. But if they do choose to come at this point in time then they are required to restrict their movements for 14 days.”

He said testing at airports was not an effective measure as it generated a lot of false positives that were very resource intensive.

“The problem with testing at airports is that it gives you information at a single point in time, and a single point of time over a 14 day period. So the problem is it doesn’t actually give you any reassurance that a person doesn’t have the virus on board at the point in time. If I am infected today the virus is not going to be detectable in my respiratory tract for probably 4 to 5 days on average.”