Covid-19: One more death and 174 further cases confirmed in State

Of new infections, 118 are linked to Kildare, Laois and Offaly, says acting medical chief

Over the past 14 days, several hundred cases of Covid-19 have emerged in Kildare, Laois and Offaly. File photograph: The Irish Times

Over the past 14 days, several hundred cases of Covid-19 have emerged in Kildare, Laois and Offaly. File photograph: The Irish Times

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Acting chief medical officer Ronan Glynn said the sharp increase in coronavirus cases reported on Saturday was not unexpected and that significant numbers of infections are likely to be identified over the coming days.

He was speaking after the Health Protection Surveillance Centre was this evening informed of 174 new cases and one more death due to Covid-19 in Ireland.

This brings to 1,772 the total number of Covid-19 related deaths in Ireland. The number of confirmed cases now stands at 26,644.

The figure for new cases reported today is the highest one-day total since the middle of May and up from the 98 reported on Friday

Mr Glynn said 118 of the new cases are linked to the three counties – Kildare, Laois and Offaly – where restrictions on movement were reintroduced at midnight following a virus surge there.

“While today’s numbers of confirmed cases are high, they are not unexpected,” said Mr Glynn. “Our priority now . . . is to avoid these cases and clusters leading to widespread community transmission of the disease.”

Mr Glynn said testing was being carried out on hundreds and hundreds of employees and close contacts of people confirmed as having the virus in one of a series of clusters in factories in these three counties.

“So it is not unexpected given what we know about this disease and how easily that it transmits that we’re seeing a significant number of cases coming through tonight.”

Mr Glynn said it is positive that the “vast majority of these cases to date are linked directly with the clusters or close contacts of people who are working in these facilities. So we’re still as confident as we can be that the disease has not leaked out more widely into the communities in these counties.”

However, Mr Glynn sounded a note of caution for rest of the country and appealed for people to be cautious and heed the public health advice.

“We have about 50 cases tonight from other counties [outside Kildare, Laois and Offaly]. Two weeks ago if we were sitting here with 50 cases the country as a whole would have been worried. We can’t lose sight of what is happening elsewhere,” he told RTÉ’s Six One.

Mr Glynn added that at this point, there are no other counties where he felt restrictions similar to those in Kildare, Offaly and Laois are required.

Earlier, Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly denied that the movement restrictions in the three counties amount to a new lockdown and warned “much harsher” measures would be needed without the restraints.

“This isn’t a lockdown. All that is really happening here is that the people in the three counties are being asked for non-work related travel to just stay in the three counties and to minimise the number of people gathering together,” he told RTÉ Radio One on Saturday.

“The vast amount of businesses are staying open, the vast amount of social life is going to continue, so the measures are proportionate.”

Over the past 14 days, several hundred cases of Covid-19 have emerged in these three counties representing about half of all cases detected in the State during that time.

Most of the cases are linked to food-processing plants in the region, with two factories having more than 80 cases.

Gardaí will police the new regional travel restrictions in the same way as they approached the national lockdown earlier this year, with checkpoints and requests to return home where people are found to be in breach of the regulations.

What are the new movement restrictions?

  • Residents of Kildare, Laois and Offaly can only travel within their own county except for work, medical appointments or vital family reasons.
  • Restaurants and cafes have been ordered to close their indoor areas, while hotels cannot accommodate tourists except for guests already present.
  • All indoor gatherings must now be restricted to a maximum of six people from no more than three households.
  • Outdoor gatherings will be limited to 15 people.
  • Most visits to residential facilities and prisons will not be allowed while over-70s have been told to stay at home as much as possible.
  • All cinemas, theatres, betting shops, gyms, leisure centres, will have to close in the three counties.
  • There will be no sporting events or matches.
  • Creches and hairdressers may remain open.
  • An attendance limit of 25 people outdoors is set for a funerals or six people indoors.

Without these new restrictions, transmission of the disease in the three counties would reach a “much higher level” and it would be inevitable that “much harsher measures and economic measures” similar to the first national lockdown would have to be reimposed, said Mr Donnelly.

Defending a lack of consultation with business leaders in the midlands, Mr Donnelly said it was a public health measure to “save lives” and it was the view of National Public Health Emergency Team that it was “time to act and time to act quickly”.

In moving “quickly”, the Government was also “protecting the local economies”.

Mr Donnelly was adamant that the inspection regime for meat plants was rigorous, adding that Ireland was the first country in Europe to introduce Covid-19 protocols for the industry.

They had been working well, with very few cases in July after serious outbreaks in May, but “for some reason” there has been a re-emergence in large clusters at plants in the midlands in recent weeks, he added.

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