Midlands and Border counties record highest Covid-19 positivity rates

Offaly posts highest rate in country, but still unclear whether Delta variant to blame

A Covid-19 test centre outside Tullamore, Co Offaly. Photograph: Collins

A Covid-19 test centre outside Tullamore, Co Offaly. Photograph: Collins

 

Counties in the midlands and along the Border are recording the highest Covid-19 positivity rates in testing with Offaly recording the highest rate in the country, according to new figures.

Data from the Health Service Executive (HSE) shows Donegal, Sligo and Cavan along with Offaly are recording positivity rates of between 7 and 10 per cent, in excess of the national average of 4.5 per cent.

The positivity rate in Offaly is just over 10 per cent but it is not yet clear whether the more transmissible Delta variant is responsible for the higher positivity rates in these counties.

Niamh O’Beirne, the HSE’s lead for testing and tracing, said that it would take a number of weeks for genome sequencing to determine whether the Delta variant – originally identified in India and now dominant in England – was causing higher transmission.

Public health doctors are monitoring social and workplace events and local travel for the potential spread of the virus and encouraging more younger people to be tested for Covid-19.

The HSE has warned of an inevitable increase in the number of Delta variant cases.

A pop-up Covid-19 testing site has opened in Dundalk, Co Louth amid concerns about potential variants spreading due to a number of outbreaks in workplaces and family settings.

“There is a bit of concern about suspected variants of concern. We are asking the under-40s to come forward for testing,” said Ms O’Beirne of the Dundalk testing site.

Initial screening showed that there were possible variants of concern in circulation in Co Louth but that it would take genome sequencing to determine whether it was the dominant Alpha or “B117” variant first identified in UK or the new Delta variant, she said.

The counties with the lowest positivity rates are Mayo and Longford where the rates range from zero to 1.5 per cent.

The HSE has conducted 116,000 Covid-19 tests over the past seven days – down from the almost 130,000 tests conducted in a week in early May when the last figures for weekly testing were posted prior to the cyberattack on the HSE’s IT systems.

So far 23,000 people have booked Covid-19 tests online, a method that accounts for one in every five referrals for testing.

The highest positivity levels in referrals are among people aged 15-24 who account for a positivity rate of 7.5 per cent.

About 7,500 people have booked day five Covid-19 tests – a requirement to shorten the 14-day quarantine period after travelling into the country if the test is “not detected” – since the online test booking portal opened on June 9th but the positivity rates on the test remain low.

Ms O’Beirne said that just 0.6 per cent of day five tests were coming back positive.

Referrals for testing by GPs has recommenced since last month’s cyberattack.

Overall, some 4.7 million tests have been conducted to date during the 16-month pandemic.