New pop-up Covid test centre in Athlone to tackle outbreak of Delta variant

HSE Midlands appeals to anyone socialising along river Shannon to present for testing

Contact tracers  realised over the weekend that a cluster of cases was linked to socialising along the river in Athlone.

Contact tracers realised over the weekend that a cluster of cases was linked to socialising along the river in Athlone.


A new pop-up Covid-19 test centre will open in Athlone on Thursday in response to an outbreak of the virus that is likely associated with the more transmissible Delta variant.

The Department of Public Health in the Midlands is urging anyone who attended social events along the River Shannon on June 11th to seek a test.

HSE Midlands director of public health, Dr Una Fallon, told The Irish Times that there has already been an increased demand for testing at the Co Westmeath Covid-19 test centre as a result of the public health team’s appeal to the public. All tests from Athlone will be sent to laboratories for variant screening, she added.

The call follows a warning from chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan that new data shows a “concerning increase” in the transmission of the Delta variant in the past week with it now accounting for 20 per cent of new cases.

Dr Fallon said 14 primary cases had been associated with socialising along the river. The index case in this cluster is currently linked to community transmission, she said.

She said contact tracers realised on Friday that a cluster of cases linked to this date and place was “probably” the Delta variant after sending a batch of tests from a particular test site to a laboratory for variant screening.

“Here we were looking at another situation trying to get a bit more clarity . . . Routinely we do screening on travel-associated cases. We would often send them to the laboratory for variant screening,” she explained, adding that it was “quite random” that they discovered the likely strain of the cases stemming from June 11th.

The Midlands public health team had been aware of this cluster of cases in Athlone prior to realising these were likely linked to the Delta variant, Dr Fallon said.

“We could see it gathering pace on Saturday and Sunday. It is a unique situation in that we cannot tell who is at risk or how many are exposed,” she said.

For a school or workplace outbreak contact tracers can engage with stakeholders and get a precise list of the people exposed to the virus, she explained.

“In normal circumstances we would be in a relatively controlled situation and be able to follow up. But this is a very generalised thing and we felt it was important to inform the public and ask the community to help us,” she said.

Highly mobile

Dr Fallon said one of the concerns of the public health team is that the younger age cohorts that could be involved are largely unvaccinated and highly mobile. She appealed to younger people with even minor symptoms to refrain from going to work or socialising.

The Athlone pop-up test centre will be open for adult and child walk-ins between 10am and 4pm from Thursday to Saturday.

A centre will also open in Dungarvan, Co Waterford, on Thursday and remain open until Saturday amid a concern around a rise in confirmed cases of the virus there.

It comes following a suspected cluster of Covid-19 cases in An Rinn, with the short-term closure of a number of sports clubs and businesses.

When asked if it had concerns the Delta variant might be present, a spokesman for the HSE South East said it does not comment on individual situations in the interests of confidentiality.

Meanwhile a further 294 new cases of Covid-19 were reported by the Department of Health on Tuesday. There are 39 patients being treated for the disease in hospital with 13 in ICU.