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ghost town Kerry town fearful as many have to quarantine after outbreak in national school

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Glen Evans from Killorglin with his son Colm (12), who is one of the children who tested positive for Covid-19

Glen Evans from Killorglin with his son Colm (12), who is one of the children who tested positive for Covid-19

Glen Evans from Killorglin with his son Colm (12), who is one of the children who tested positive for Covid-19

When Susan Moriarty drew the curtains in her home at around 8.30am yesterday her eyes were met with a disquieting scene.

It was time for the school-run, when the main road into the small estate where she lives would normally be busy with carloads of children being ferried to school.

Overnight, it seemed, something had dramatically changed everything.

“It was like ghost estate,” she told the Irish Independent.

“Normally you would see the cars zipping in and out but there wasn’t a car on the road. There was no movement. I went through the town a few hours later and it was dead and the businesses were more or less shuttered. It was soul-destroying.”

In the close-knit community of Killorglin, Co Kerry, where a cluster of Covd-19 cases in the local school, Scoil Mhuire, is reportedly one of the biggest school outbreaks to date, the events of the past week have left locals reeling.

“Everyone is very upset,” said Ms Moriarty, who has a 15-year-old daughter who attends one of the local secondary schools – Intermediate School in Killorglin (ISK).

“It’s very disappointing now to think the whole of Killorglin is going to be quarantined and we are not going to have a Christmas. You have a lot of families here who could have grandparents next door or living down the road.

“It’s a very close-knit community and we have four national schools. You have houses where both parents are teachers, one parent in Scoil Mhuire and another parent in another local school. This has impacted everyone.”

As well as the outbreak at Scoil Mhuire, there are also confirmed cases among students and staff at the ISK Ms Moriarty’s daughter attends, as well as in other primary schools in the region.

The majority of students in the ISK did not go to school yesterday due to the outbreak, though the school remains open. For the young pupils and families directly impacted by the Scoil Mhuire cluster, the events of the past week have brought untold worry and fear into homes that, at this time of year, would normally be focusing on the build-up to Christmas.

Glen Evans, whose son Colm is in sixth class at Scoil Mhuire, a mixed primary school with 386 pupils, said the 12-year-old tested positive on Monday after one of his classmates contracted the virus.

His first thoughts were about how much of a risk he would pose to his grandmother, who lives with the Evans family.

“In terms of the symptoms he was displaying – I would say he had none,” Mr Evans told the Irish Independent.

“His 87-year-old grandmother lives with us and the first symptom he had was fear. Fear that something would happen to her and it would be his fault.

"He was in tears. Out of everything, when he started crying over his nan, I was thinking, ‘God, I can do everything for my son, but I can’t take this away’. The reality of this virus is that the stuff that goes with it, like that, is nearly as bad.”

Luckily, the rest of the Evans family have had negative test results, including Colm’s grandmother Nora.

“We are dealing with it since last Friday night,” said Mr Evans.

“It’s been a rollercoaster ride since. There will be a phonecall, or someone upstairs will say they have a temperature or a headache and you are up the walls. A week ago we were saying: ‘isn’t it great, we have no cases here’, and then bang. It’s tough, but I’m looking back at my town at the moment and there could be far worse happening there.

“When you get into a scary situation like this, it’s amazing how Christmas drops down the priority list.”

Early yesterday morning, as local GP surgeries struggled to keep up with the volumes of patients coming through the doors, the Covid-19 testing centre in nearby Tralee was filling up with locals from Killorglin.

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Scoil Mhuire in Killorglin. Photo: Domnick Walsh

Scoil Mhuire in Killorglin. Photo: Domnick Walsh

Scoil Mhuire in Killorglin. Photo: Domnick Walsh

Gardaí were on site at the centre to deal with the increased volume of traffic, one of the first times that such measures have been seen at the test centre at the former Army Barracks site in Kerry.

Ms Moriarty, who has an auto-immune disease, was there after a referral for a test from her GP.

“As I was going in, a local family was coming out,” she said.

“It was like that all day as far as I know with people from Killorglin passing each other. Last Thursday I was in contact with someone who I later learned had Covid. I keep my bubble very tight but the way the virus is transmitting locally means that it’s extremely hard.

“Waiting on the result is worrying but I am thinking of the families who have two or three children in the house who are positive and they have to tell their children to stay away from everyone else for Christmas. To me that’s heartbreaking.”

By yesterday evening, as dozens of families came to terms with having to isolate until the end of December, businesses in the town made the difficult decision to close.

Nicola Lynch, who runs Zest Cafe in Killorglin, has closed her business for precautionary reasons as one of her staff has a child in the school who has received a positive test result.

Hers is among several businesses to close as many in the local community are close contacts of Covid-19 cases and will now have to self-isolate for 14 days, which means, for most, that Christmas is going to be very difficult.

“It is a desperate situation. It is devastating for everyone,” she said.

Several hairdressing salons also shuttered and local businesses were turning to local Fianna Fáil councillor Michael Cahill for advice on what to do.

“Business people have contacted me, and they are very concerned,” he said.

“I had one business owner who remains open but feels like Nphet needs to intervene here and tell businesses to close. There is a lot of uncertainly. People are worried about the people around them. I am hearing that entire households have tested positive and there is huge shock throughout Killorglin. The size of the outbreak, in relation to numbers in this case, has caused huge dismay. It’s an alarming number really.

“Obviously it’s heartbreaking for the kids, especially so close to Christmas. They have basically been ordered to stay at home until December 30 and that brings them right through Christmas. I just
hope to God this is a mild form of the virus within the
community here. There is great worry and anxiety and the message is that we cannot be complacent.”

Mr Cahill, who is on the advisory board of a local nursing home, said there was growing fear among the community over how it would protect the vulnerable. “The big fear is for the elderly population and those with underlying conditions,” he said.

“You have St Joseph’s nursing home in Killorglin and there is a big fear about those residents. Five or six miles out the road you have St Mary of the Angels, another setting with vulnerable people.

"The fact that Killorglin is the main town in mid-Kerry means there is a wide sense of fear and anxiety. We will have to really pull together to get this back down.”

Additional reporting by Sinead Kelleher

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