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Major Covid outbreaks at two universities as students flout rules

Evidence of household mixing among students at University College Galway and the University of Limerick


Dr Ronan Glynn and Prof Philip Nolan (left) at the Covid-19 update at the Department of Health. Photo: Colin Keegan/Collins

Dr Ronan Glynn and Prof Philip Nolan (left) at the Covid-19 update at the Department of Health. Photo: Colin Keegan/Collins

Dr Ronan Glynn and Prof Philip Nolan (left) at the Covid-19 update at the Department of Health. Photo: Colin Keegan/Collins

Two universities have been hit by major Covid-19 outbreaks as students flout lockdown rules, causing clusters of infection involving up to 40 people.

The outbreaks were discovered in University College Galway and the University of Limerick with clear evidence of household mixing, the Department of Health Covid-19 briefing was told.

It came on a day when no death from Covid-19 was reported, although another 821 people nationally were diagnosed with the virus as the fall in spread is slowing.

Dr Lorraine Doherty of the Health Protection Surveillance Centre said in the Galway outbreak 135 students have tested positive with another 35 suspected cases and 30 more with symptoms undergoing testing.

She said there have been 15 clusters with up to 40 people involved in some, with an average of two to three households linked. There is concern about the outbreaks and in the University of Limerick, where 120 students have tested positive, widespread screening has been triggered.

Meanwhile “presenteeism”, where people are going to work with symptoms, is one of the causes of workplace outbreaks, along with a lack of social distancing and staff meeting up for smoking breaks, she added.

It comes amid more signals that there will be no pardon from lockdown as all efforts are made to reopen education and resume non-Covid healthcare next month amid warnings about squandering the hard-fought gains of recent weeks which have driven down cases from 6,500 per day.

Asked about the prospect of households meeting on St Patrick’s Day, Dr Ronan Glynn cautioned against thinking too far ahead.

“At this point, I don’t see anything other than the cautious phased reopening of schools will be possible in March. We have got to get that right and our health services up and running. It is difficult to see beyond that at this point.”

With regards to people being able to attend Mass on Easter Sunday, he said it was “too early to talk about Easter at this point”.

He said the figures suggest the country will be in a relatively good position by the middle of March.

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However, he reminded people that it is still not safe enough to meet people from outside your own household.

Prof Philip Nolan, who tracks the virus, said we are currently at a level of disease similar to the end of October. He said it took very strict measures to bring case numbers down to around 250 a day but that “we know that was not enough”.

Dr Glynn said the reference in a new report from the European Centre for Disease Control that the UK strain was more lethal than the original form of the virus was based on a preliminary study and there was no evidence of that here.

Meanwhile, Prof Nolan said the positivity rate is falling, but it is doing so slowly.

It is currently dropping at just under 6pc which is still too high, he said.

However, the high incidence among older people is now down to the population average and they will soon have the benefit of being vaccinated against Covid-19. There is an increase in cases in Dublin and in other cities. There were 916 Covid-19 patients in hospital yesterday with 157 seriously ill in intensive care.

There are now around 40 admissions to hospital a day. So far there have been 404 Covid-19 related deaths this month.

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