Some Leaving Cert students in Limerick to miss exams due to Covid-19

Holohan rules out local lockdown as incidence of cases in county causes concerns

Health officials held talks with Limerick politicians on Friday following a recent surge in Covid-19 cases in the county which the HSE chief executive said has created a volatile situation. Photograph: iStock.

Health officials held talks with Limerick politicians on Friday following a recent surge in Covid-19 cases in the county which the HSE chief executive said has created a volatile situation. Photograph: iStock.

 

A small number of Leaving Certificate students in Limerick are due to miss their exams, as they are either confirmed cases of Covid-19 or close contacts.

Limerick has seen some 800 cases in the last fortnight and the 14-day incidence in the county is several times the national average.

In a statement, the Department of Public Health Mid-West reiterated an appeal for people in Limerick to socialise responsibly over the coming bank holiday weekend.

“We are aware of a small number of Leaving Certificate students who will miss out on examinations next week as a result of being a confirmed case and close contact,” the statement said.

The “catalyst” for the recent rise in outbreaks of the virus in the region had been indoor gatherings, it noted. These included house parties, birthday parties, family gatherings, large social events and household visits.

“This has a significant knock-on effect in the community, adversely affecting settings such as workplaces and schools. We are aware of a number of outbreaks that have led to local businesses and schools to temporarily close. These clusters have compounded active outbreaks in the community,” the statement said.

Paul Reid, Health Service Executive (HSE) chief executive, has said the country was heading into the bank holiday weekend “in a really strong position”.

In a post on Twitter on Friday night, Mr Reid said the number of Covid-19 patients in hospital was down to 70, with 28 people in intensive care. “We’ve achieved too much to let it slip now. Enjoy the weekend and let’s keep our guard up,” he said. 

Meanwhile, a local lockdown for Limerick is not currently being considered, the Chief Medical Officer has told a meeting of politicians and public health officials from the county.

However, testing in the county is to be increased in an effort to bring the spread of Covid-19 under control, Dr Tony Holohan said.

Dr Holohan and Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly briefed Limerick-based TDs and Senators on the situation in the county on Friday following a recent surge in Covid-19 cases.

More than 100 cases were reported in Limerick on Wednesday, the highest number since cases surged nationally at the start of the year, with the infections being largely linked by a local HSE official to “high risk” indoor activities such as parties and family events.

Multiple attendees at the meeting said Dr Holohan had said a lockdown is not currently on the cards.

‘Rule that out’

“There’s no contemplation of postponing the easing of restrictions, or any lockdown, you can rule that out,” said Willie O’Dea, Fianna Fáil TD for Limerick City.

The mayor of Limerick City and Council, Michael Collins, said there was a “clear message” at the meeting.

“There’s no lockdown being planned for Limerick. The case count is high, we can make small changes over the weekend to bring it down. They did it in Donegal, if we follow the same patterns of behaviour we can get the case count down in a number of days”.

Minister of State at the Department of Higher Education Niall Collins said that while there was no local lockdown at this point “the situation remains serious and precarious”.

Mr Collins, a Fianna Fáil TD for Limerick County, said Dr Holohan told the meeting he had given serious consideration to slowing down the pace of restrictions being eased, but it too was not being advised at this time.

“We’re asking people to redouble their efforts in terms of adherence to public health etiquette and guidelines,” he said, adding that avoiding indoor congregation is “chief driver” of infection.

The walk-in testing centre in St Joseph’s Hospital in Limerick City is to have its capacity doubled over the weekend, the meeting was told, while another pop-up centre will be opened in the county next week. There will also be increased advertising and public awareness campaigns to drive testing.

The number of cases in Limerick on Friday was 75, down from 103 reported on Thursday, the meeting was told. The meeting heard that most of the cases associated with the recent surge were in the Limerick City area, rather than the county, but that rates had increased in both.

‘Not out of the woods’

Fine Gael TD for Limerick City Kieran O’Donnell said statistics shared at the meeting showed roughly half infections were among those aged 19-44, and 20 per cent among the 19-24 age group. “Unvaccinated people are extremely vulnerable and that was one of the key messages.”

While the meeting heard that test positivity in Limerick is between four and six per cent, Sinn Féin TD for Limerick City Maurice Quinlivan said that positivity rates of between nine and 10 per cent are being seen among those aged between 35-54, many of whom are not vaccinated.

“People in Limerick have done a really good job over the last year, and people need to continue what they’re doing, look after themselves, mind themselves, mind their family and friends. I’m relieved there’s no lockdown, there was huge concern people were really stressed and they’re beyond breaking point,” Mr Quinlivan said.

The message was “loud and clear”, said Brian Leddin, Green Party TD for Limerick City, said.

“We’re not out of the woods in Limerick, we need to take this very seriously, maintain distancing reduce contacts and do what we’ve been doing so well for so long.”

Earlier on Friday, Mr Donnelly said the surge in Limerick was “eminently solvable” and he had spoken to Dr Holohan and had been assured the spread of the Indian variant or Delta variant was not a factor.

“This is the B117 variant or whichever Alpha, Beta we’re giving that one,” he told the Seanad. “I’ve no doubt the people of Limerick city and county are already stepping up to deal with this and there is fantastic work going on, on the ground.”

Reminder

Mr Donnelly said the high case numbers were a reminder of “why you do need public health measures”.

Dr Holohan expressed concern on Thursday over the “significant increase” in cases, “the majority of which occurred as a result of indoor gatherings”.

In a series of tweets, Dr Holohan said incidence of the virus in Limerick had increased sharply to 411 cases per 100,000 people, the highest in the country.

“It is extremely important that everyone in the Limerick region continues to adhere to the public health advice,” he said.

HSE chief executive Paul Reid said the situation remained very volatile and that “the virus has caught us every time we dropped our guard”.

He told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland that the “multiplier effect” can quickly lead to a rise in cases.

Deputy chief medical officer Dr Ronan Glynn on Friday said the situation was not good in Limerick but it could be overcome. Previously, he told Spin FM, when such difficulties had arisen the response of the medical profession, local businesses and politicians and the community had been excellent and he was optimistic that would be the case again.