There were 16 new Covid-19 outbreaks and 65 new cases of the disease in the Traveller community notified to the health service in the past week, according to latest figures.
The number of new outbreaks in that community in the week ending May 1st was double the number notified the previous week, the Health Protection Surveillance Centre statistics show.
An outbreak is defined as two or more linked cases of the disease.
The new cases bring to 3,608 laboratory-confirmed cases of the disease in the 35,000-strong Traveller community reported in the third wave of the disease that began before Christmas.
According to the statistics, 155 members of the Traveller community have been hospitalised with the disease since the third wave, 22 have required critical care and eight have died.
Ronnie Fay, co-director of Pavee Point, a representative group for the community, said the high incidence rate among Travellers showed the urgency of vaccinating them as soon as possible.
She attributed the high infection rate, amounting to about one in every 10 members of the community, to underlying health issues and overcrowded living conditions with Travellers having the biggest families yet the fewest rooms per family compared with the wider population.
“It is a perfect storm for Covid,” she said. “It is very hard to follow the Covid-19 health guidelines. If you have bigger families and smaller spaces, how can you socially distance?”
Ms Fay welcomed the finding by the State's health service watchdog, the Health Information and Quality Authority, in a recent report that the Traveller, Roma and homeless communities were at higher risk of disease and should be prioritised in the Covid-19 vaccine rollout.
Travellers should be prioritised for vaccination outside the older-first rollout given that just 3 per cent of Travellers are over the age of 65 and some 63 per cent were under the age of 25, she said.
“The State has to come up with practical solutions such as bespoke pop-up clinics to address the fear of the vaccine where vaccine hesitancy might be reduced,” she said.
Ms Fay advised that the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine was “the most pragmatic and practical arrangement” and that Traveller families being called for vaccination in groups at vaccination hubs could help resolve concerns around vaccine hesitancy within the community.
Ms Fay said large gatherings at Traveller funerals was “certainly not helping” to prevent the spread of the virus but that the community was “not alone” across the wider population in large attendances at wakes and funerals resulting in the transmission of the disease.
Larger Traveller families and the prioritisation of “cultural values” within the community can make adherence to public guidelines for funerals more difficult, she said.
The Traveller community remains the “vulnerable population” most affected by the disease, according to the Health Protection Surveillance Centre.
This is followed by Direct Provision Centres where there have been 424 cases of the diseases.
There have been 241 cases among the homeless population, including four new outbreaks notified in the past week.
In other settings, there were 29 new outbreaks associated with schools, down one on the previous week.
Other HSE data shows there was a 14 per cent increase in the numbers under the age of 18 testing positive for Covid-19 last week, rising to 1,000 from 875 the week before.
The biggest increase was among children aged up to 4 years rising by 18 per cent, followed by teenagers, increasing by 15 per cent, and the 5- to 12-year-olds rising by 11 per cent.
Overall, the positivity rate on mass testing in schools remained largely static at 2.4 per cent.
There were 186 Covid-19 cases detected from 7,896 students and staff tested across 291 schools compared with 116 detected from 4,639 tests in 183 schools the previous week.
Family outbreaks in private homes remain the highest number of outbreaks with 162 reported last week, a reduction of eight from the number notified the previous week.
There were no new outbreaks reported in nursing homes and just one reported in a hospital - an illustration of the protection brought to these settings as a result of vaccinations.