A GP practice in the Dingle Peninsula went nine months without having a single patient test positive for Covid-19.
While isolation has been one of the most difficult aspects of the Covid-19 pandemic, rural areas have been reaping the rewards as the latest data from the HSE shows Granard in Co Longford and Corca Dhuibhne in Co Kerry are the only two electoral areas with no recorded cases in the two weeks up to February 22.
Doctors in the country’s most-infected and least-infected areas have painted very different pictures.
Dr Peadar Ó Fionnain, of Clinic Cois Abhann in Dingle, Co Kerry, is due to start the vaccination roll-out at his practice today. Despite “the whole of the country” travelling to Dingle for a staycation last summer, cases remained low.
“We’ve had a very low infection rate for 12 months, apart from a few weeks in March last year when people weren’t being diagnosed because of the way testing was,” Dr Ó Fionnain said. “We had no positive diagnosis in any of our patients until this January and we did well over 100 tests, and even though the whole of the country was here last August, the numbers remained low.
“We’re lucky because Dingle is a peninsula, it’s half an island basically. We don’t have much traffic, so it’s like a cul de sac. There’s very little coming and going, we don’t have clustered housing, we don’t have too much heavy industry. I think it’s these sorts of things which have helped us.”
Kerry currently has the second-lowest infection rate of all counties, with 60.9 cases per 100,000 of the population.
While Dr Ó Fionnain’s practice is late getting its vaccine doses, there’s a “feel-good factor” about the place.
“We’ve a small number of over-85s. Although it’s been a very slow start, the urgency probably isn’t there as it’s not so rampant here,” he said.
Like all towns and cities, Dingle was affected by people travelling home for Christmas. There was a spike in cases and a number of people sadly passed away from the virus in January.
“There were a good handful of cases here in January, we had a number of patients test positive. By the end of January, we were back on track and we haven’t had any cases since.
“Like a lot of the smaller towns in the west of Ireland, we were affected by people coming back from abroad and from the cities.”
Kenmare (35.9) and Killarney (47.3) also boast very low incidences of the virus, which have contributed to Kerry being bottom of the table. However, the midlands counties of Offaly, Longford and Westmeath are top of the pile. Longford has the second-highest infection rate with 376 cases per 100,000 – but yet the semi-rural town of Granard went two weeks without a positive case.
Dr Niall Donohoe, a GP based in the area, said numbers had been very low because locals were complying with the regulations. However, the HSE data doesn’t tell the full story.
“I sadly had a patient who died from Covid-19 very recently,” he said. “He was in hospital. He was an elderly man with some underlying conditions. I’ve had a couple of cases in the last two weeks, but the numbers have definitely gone way down. I’ve had a couple of days when I didn’t refer any patients, but there has been a surge in Longford in the last week.”
The towns and cities which currently have the highest infection rates include the Galway City Central local electoral area, which has a rate more than five times the national average. There were 1,292 cases per 100,000 of the population recorded in the 14 days up to February 22, which equates to roughly one in every 80 people having tested positive.
Ballymun-Finglas had the highest rate in Dublin and ranked second highest in the country at 798 cases per 100,000.
Dr Aliya Rahim, of D9 Family Practice on the Ballymun Road, said around 70pc of her patients referred for testing had come back positive since Christmas. “In Ballymun you have a generation of one family living under one roof and the families are all very close together. So if one person goes out and gets it, they are bringing it home. Housing is definitely an issue,” she said.
Dr Rahim’s staff are still waiting to be vaccinated. Her patients aged in their early 80s will be inoculated at the Helix theatre at DCU tomorrow.
While the number of patients infected is falling, she still sees people becoming quite sick with Covid.
“Some of my patients with underlying conditions have been very sick, some of them needed hospitalisation. A lot of my patients are also healthcare workers and healthcare providers. I’ve some homecare workers too and it’s been very difficult for them as if they get Covid, they can’t provide care,” she said.
In Offaly – which currently has the highest incidence rate in the country – Tullamore (555.6) and Birr (471) have been affected the worst. The Irish Independent rang three GP practices in Tullamore, with all doctors revealing they were “incredibly busy” with Covid-19 cases at the moment.
Gatherings at funerals, weddings and house parties in the midlands have contributed to a spike in cases. Gardaí issued a number of fines in February after crowds gathered in Tullamore for a sulky race.
In Longford, gardaí had to intervene at a house party in the Palace Crescent area on Valentine’s weekend. Up to 70 people were in attendance and a number of fines were issued.
In Co Westmeath, gardaí attended a large gathering at a wedding in Mullingar on February 15. It is understood up to 100 people were present.
A Garda spokesperson said: “Gardaí are aware of a wedding that took place. Gardaí did attend the scene and engaged with those present.
“Where gardaí identify potential breaches of the public health regulations, a file is prepared for the DPP in each case or a fixed payment notice is issued where appropriate.”