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'A calamity for the country': NPHET won't rule out regional lockdown in Kildare, Laois and Offaly

The outbreak is largely associated with meat processing factories.

Image: Sam Boal

Updated Aug 7th 2020, 9:09 AM

HEALTH OFFICIALS HAVE said they cannot rule out a regional lockdown in Kildare, Laois and Offaly after a significant rise in the number of confirmed cases across the three counties. 

The National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) will today announce further advice and measures to control the spread of Covid-19 in the midlands counties.

Acting Chief Medical Officer, Dr Ronan Glynn said almost half the new cases over the past two weeks were located in those counties and warned members of the public to “double down” their efforts to follow public health advice. 

Glynn, at a briefing from the Department of Health last night, said NPHET was reviewing the circumstances around the outbreaks and will “provide more specific detail and guidance” today. 

The outbreak is largely associated with meat processing factories in the region, and to some degree direct provision centres which are home to a number of factory workers. 

Speaking this morning of the emerging factory clusters, the HSE’s Chief Clinical Officer Dr Colm Henry said “nothing can be ruled out” as efforts get underway to contain the virus. 

“The figures are troubling, there’s no doubt about it when we look at figures over the past two weeks, and nationally, not just in these there counties. We’ve seen a sharp increase in cases over the past number weeks,” he told Newstalk Breakfast. 

“The vast majority of cases are related to these outbreaks and close contacts of these outbreaks, but what we have not yet seen, thankfully, is a breakout into widespread community transmission where all bets are off then. 

“And I heard [...] somebody from Kildare Town saying it would be a calamity if Kildare Town was to face into lockdown again.

It would be a calamity for the country if we had widespread community transmission again because then we’re back to where we were. 

“So understandably there is focus and talk of regional lockdown and what it means for these three counties but the message from us for everybody in the country, most particularly in these three counties, is to get back to the basic measures and break that chain of transmission.”

Henry added: “Nothing can be ruled out because, as we’ve learnt the hard way, everything has to be considered in order to avoid unrestrained community transmission”. 

The acting CMO ruled out ordering meat processing factories from suspending their operation completely, but O’Brien Fine Foods in Timahoe Co Kildare moved to close its doors last night anyway. 

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It confirmed 80 of its more than 240 staff tested positive, with a “high” level of “asymptomatic infectivity” and following discussions with the HSE decided to suspended operations while keeping a minimum number of staff members on its warehousing activity. 

The company said that given its level of “rigour and our comparatively low level of confirmed cases up to this point, this sudden spike is difficult to comprehend.”

The R number which indicates the rate of transmission has climbed from a low of between 0.4 and 0.7 to almost 2.0, which NPHET’s Professor Philip Nolan described as being of “serious concern”. 

Fianna Fáil TD for Kildare North James Lawless says he has asked the Minister for Health to reopen the county’s Covid-19 test facility in an effort to protect the local community and the employees at the centre of the outbreaks. 

“I explained to Minister Donnelly that currently there is no testing centre in Kildare. I am aware of one family who had to travel to a testing facility at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin, and others who were invited for testing but did not travel due to difficulties in getting to the stadium. This needs to change and I made this point to the Minister,” Lawless said.

“All supports in terms of testing, contract tracing, and medical care should be provided to the clusters in Kildare to ensure a full recovery of the employees infected with this virus, but also so it does not become a serious outbreak in the community.”

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