Health chief warns ‘it’s not all over’ in plea for public hygiene
A sudden spike in Covid-19 infections which has seen a single-day rise in 85 people found to have the virus has led to major fears about the start of a second wave of the killer disease.
It has deeply unsettled and shaken public health officials while plunging the nation into a state of uncertainty about the potential grip the virus could take on the country.
The next few days will be crucial in determining if this is a blip, whether the virus is confined to clusters or if has seeped into the wider community.
Acting chief medical officer Dr Ronan Glynn warned: "Today may be a blip associated with a number of specific clusters or it may be a sign of something more significant."
The number of new cases reported yesterday - more than double the worst case scenario seen earlier this week - is the biggest shock and setback this summer and comes in advance of the August bank holiday weekend, as well as ambitious plans to reopen schools.
Central to the upsurge in cases is a dog food factory in Kildare which has seen a large cluster in cases and has shut down to control the spread.
Irish Dog Foods took the decision to close its plant in Naas last Friday after an outbreak was discovered.
Dr Glynn said yesterday a number of the workers at the factory were resident in direct provision centres nearby and all had been tested for the virus.
People who have the virus have been referred to hotel accommodation to self-isolate. The other clusters are in the construction industry, private households and extended families.
Dr Glynn said 26 cases were located in Kildare, 18 in Dublin, 11 in Clare, nine in Laois, seven in Limerick, four in Meath and the remainder are spread across seven other counties.
More than one-third of new cases were close contacts of somebody who had already tested positive.
One more death from the virus was reported yesterday but the number of people being treated remains very low.
Asked how he would categorise his fears now, Dr Glynn said: "We are very concerned."
Key to understanding the clusters is whether they are contained or whether they have spread into the community. He said he hoped the daily number of new cases would be back below 40 today.
Until yesterday there were around 20 cases a day.
He added that we needed to "take a moment and see what comes through on Friday and Saturday and make recommendations if needed".
Some 264 cases have arisen in the past 14 days, higher than the number in the previous 14 days.
"We need to understand the details between the cases," Dr Glynn said. "We need to understand the links between the clusters."
He pleaded with people to adhere to the basic messages of physical distancing, hand washing and face mask wearing and said his fear was that "people think this is all over". He warned people should see everyone they come in contact with as "potentially infectious".
Asked about the reopening of over 3,000 pubs which only sell alcohol, Dr Glynn said he acknowledged the impact of the pandemic on workers and businesses.
But he warned that the reopening of schools and the risk to residential centres of a resurgence of the virus had to be part of the wider considerations.
His comments will be seen as a grim signal to the remaining publicans which are hoping to reopen on August 10.
Professor Philip Nolan of Maynooth University, who leads a team tracking the virus, said: "Over a two-day period Ireland moved from a relatively stable epidemiology to a significant pattern connected to outbreaks.
"We now need to be really careful and adhere to public health advice so we do not further spread the virus.
"We must remain vigilant to the disease if we are to control it at this point." The professor added that there were very low levels of travel-related cases and that the number of deaths from the virus remained very low. Up until Tuesday the best estimated of the R number was just below one, he said.
Keeping the rate below one is considered key because it means the outbreak is shrinking as not everyone who catches it passes it on.
It reinforced the possibility of stopping the spread by adhering to public health guidance, he added.
THE Data Protection Commission (DPC) has raised "serious doubts" over the lawfulness of of the collection of personal data relating to the Covid-19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment (PUP) at airports.