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Virus fears Health chiefs urge Limerick, Clare and North Tipperary residents to ‘avoid New Year’s celebrations’

A department spokesman said there was “a growing concern over the impact of Christmas celebrations on the spread of Covid-19 in the community."

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The Department of Public Health has tonight urged people in one of the country’s worst hit regions for cases of Covid-19, where gardai are investigating alleged breaches of public health guidelines over Christmas, to “avoid large social gatherings of any kind for New Year’s celebrations“ in order to curb the spread of the virus.

There have been 800 positive coronavirus cases in Limerick, Clare and North Tipperary combined over the past two weeks, the Dept of Health Mid West said.

A department spokesman said there was “a growing concern over the impact of Christmas celebrations on the spread of Covid-19 in the community."

It comes as gardaí said Tuesday they were “preparing files for the Director of Public Prosecutions following incidents encountered by gardaí in Rathkeale across the Christmas period involving gatherings by large groups at private establishments and on public thoroughfares in the town”.

Rathkeale residents and Traveller rights group Pavee Point have separately raised concerns over the traditional movement of large numbers of the Travelling community from Britain - where a more transmissible form of the virus was detected before it reached Ireland - to Rathkeale, during the pandemic.

More than 1,000 visitors have travelled to the west Limerick town in recent weeks, which has sparked fears of a potential explosion of cases locally.

Gardaí are investigating after a number of house parties allegedly occurred in the town over Christmas.

According to the department spokesman, the “vast majority” of the 800 cases in the region over the past 14 days were “recorded in Limerick”.

In December, due to the nature of the festive season, the department saw three weeks of increased level of social gatherings from multiple households which had intensified in the lead up to the Christmas break.

The department’s preliminary evidence indicates that gatherings among extended families, in private households, organised events, and in the hospitality sector have been contributing factors in outbreaks locally.

“We know that the virus has been widely circulating for nearly four weeks in the community, and spreading through these extended social gatherings in the lead up to Christmas.

"However, while we continue to closely monitor the possible impact of Christmas celebrations, we fear that large household gatherings in recent days may have added an extra layer to what is already a complex situation locally,” said Dr Mai Mannix, drector of Public Health Mid-West.

“We do not want a situation whereby new household cases bring undetected Covid-19 to new settings in the community over the coming days. This would make complex outbreaks increasingly more difficult to manage,” Dr Mannix added.

“Every effort to follow public health guidelines can and will prevent serious illness and will protect our most vulnerable, particularly as the winter days grow colder.”

The department also revealed worrying statistics, which show that nearly 1,000 people in the region failed to show for scheduled tests from December 24-28.

A Department spokesman appealed to the public “to answer phone calls from contact tracers, who are making every effort to track the spread of Covid-19”.

“We are also urging members of the public who have arranged a Covid-19 swab to attend the test centre and at the allotted time, as we continue to see many people missing their appointments.“

Meanwhile, a Garda spokesman reiterated the pandemic “remains a public health crisis and An Garda Síochána continues to appeal to all citizens to comply with Public Health Guidelines and Regulations”.

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