Minister for Health, Stephen Donnelly
The decision whether or not to end a regional Covid-19 lockdown in Offaly, Laois and Kildare will be made at a meeting of the National Public Health Emergency Team today.
Acting Chief Medical Officer Ronan Glynn confirmed earlier this week that the decision would be made on Thursday. Health officials and government met on Monday to discuss and introduce broader public health measures for the entire country. Those restrictions, including limits on household gatherings, will be in place until midnight on September 13.
Specific restrictions in Laois, Offaly and Kildare, including a ban on people taking unessential travel outside their own county, have been in place since August 7 and are due to lapse at midnight this Sunday, August 23.
Minister for Health, Stephen Donnelly, this morning met virtually with Offaly county councillors but did so before the planned NPHET meeting.
A decision on extending the restrictions in the three counties will be largely based on the figures which have been improving significantly in Offaly since August 7. Offaly has not recorded a substantial number of cases per day since last Friday. Since Saturday, Offaly has been included with a large group of counties making up the balance of the cases outside the current hotspots, usually one or two per day.
As of Wednesday, Offaly's 14-day infection rate had fallen to just over 20 in every 100,000 of population.
The number of #COVID19 cases that we have now in Ireland is substantially more than we were seeing even just a few weeks ago.— Dr Ronan Glynn (@ronan_glynn) August 19, 2020
On average over the past 5 days we have reported 96 new cases. Our 14 day incidence now stands at over 23 per 100,000. 1/12 pic.twitter.com/480rLpJFGy
Despite being one of the three counties locked down, this rate is actually only the seventh-worst. Kildare's rate remains staggeringly high at around 100 per 100,000 of population. Tipperary, Carlow, Laois, Clare and Limerick all have higher 14-day infection rates than Offaly at this point. The rate in Kilkenny and Dublin is not quite as high but has been increasing in recent days.
Better still for Offaly, we have been improving day on day. We had the fourth-worst rate on Tuesday evening but had moved to seventh by Wednesday and are likely to fall further down the standings this evening as we move further away from our recent spike which was mostly associated with North Offaly-based workers of Kildare food factories.
Over 70% of recent cases in Offaly occurred in that North Offaly area around Edenderry but case numbers have fallen there too in recent days. A fresh round of testing took place at the Rosderra meat plant in the town last week but it's understood there were no positive cases detected. No significant case numbers were announced for the area in the days that followed.
However, 14-incidence rates in the three counties remain high when compared to some others. Offaly has had 105 cases in the last 14, although most of them came at the beginning of the lockdown. The rate continues to fall in the county. That puts our incidence rates at 134.7, a lot less than the 194.6 rate recorded in Kildare over the last two weeks. The vast majority of cases in all three counties can be traced to clusters.
WHO'S SAYING WHAT?
Health Minister Stephen Donnelly spoke about the restrictions in Laois, Offaly and Kildare on radio on Monday and said the "plan is for the current restrictions in those three counties to end at midnight on Sunday and that is still the intention."
Dr Ronan Glynn appeared less enthusiastic about the lifting of restrictions in his letter to Minister Donnelly following Monday's NPHET meeting discussing national restrictions. He specifically referenced the three counties' situation.
In the letter dated August 17, the acting Chief Medical Officer said: "Over the last ten days the number of cases in that region has remained high and the number of cases in other parts of the country has also increased." He made this point despite the vast difference in incidence rates between the three counties.
Speaking more generally, Dr Glynn said: "NPHET has considered that a cautious approach must be pursued." He then recommended the national measures largely adopted by the government on Monday.
Offaly councillors met virtually with the Minister for Health on Thursday morning and called for the lockdown in Offaly to be ended. The Minister gave no indication as to the next steps for the county ahead of the NPHET meeting this afternoon.
A decision on the lifting or extending of restrictions in Laois, Offaly and Kildare is expected this evening.