limerick surge 'We have also seen evidence of people presenting to their workplace while showing coronavirus symptoms'
A leading public health doctor has revealed there has been evidence of people turning up at work with Covid-19 symptoms, leading to outbreaks.
Spiralling cases in Limerick over the past fortnight have been linked to clusters in healthcare settings, the student population, private households, among extended families, in residential care settings and in workplaces.
The 14-day incidence rate in Limerick has shot up to one of the highest rates in the country over the past fortnight.
Director of Public Health HSE Mid-West Dr Mai Mannix said that guidelines around physical distancing equally apply to workplaces, which have seen several outbreaks across Limerick, Clare and North Tipperary in the past few weeks.
She urged work colleagues to keep strictly to the rules even during downtime.
She said: "We have also seen evidence of people presenting to their workplace while showing symptoms of Covid-19. This can and has led to outbreaks in many workplace settings, so it is important that if you feel you have symptoms, that you contact your GP to arrange a swab test, and immediately restrict your movements.
"In many cases, while staff are, for the most part, adhering to physical distancing guidelines, we are seeing situations where people are congregating in groups at break-time.
"This should not be happening.
"Unfortunately, some workplaces do not realise these kind of behaviours until they are notified of their first case."
Dr Mannix urged the people of Limerick to double down in their efforts to suppress transmission of the virus.
"If we follow the basic guidelines, such as limiting social interactions, physically distancing by at least two metres, wearing face masks and frequently practising good hand hygiene, we will suppress the virus in our community. This in turn will prevent outbreaks in healthcare settings and nursing homes and will protect our most vulnerable.
"While the vast majority of the public is adhering to public health advice, it is the behaviour of the few that is contributing to the rise in cases in the country," she said.
She also spoke of a concerning trend of evidence that some people, across the Mid-West region, are not restricting their movements and self-isolating while awaiting a test result.
"It is absolutely essential that people waiting for results stay at home and self-isolate in order to prevent the possibility of spreading the virus, should they later test positive."
Local sources have also revealed there has been reportedly an outbreak among meat plants in the county.
A source said: "There have been outbreaks in a meat plant in the area, there are people living together and travelling together to work in the same vehicle."
The HSE said it cannot comment on individual cases or outbreaks.
It added in a statement: "In the case where an outbreak occurs in a meat or food processing facility then outbreak mass testing will occur."
Independent Limerick TD Richard O'Donoghue said the lack of traceability of people meeting up for private parties is a cause of concern.
Speaking about one town in Limerick that he visited a few weeks ago,he said: "I pulled up to get take-out food. They told me it would be an hour.
"There is an off-licence adjacent to it - I thought it was the end of the world with the amount of boxes of alcohol being brought out of there, it was a Saturday night.
"There are outbreaks coming from a minority of people congregating whether it is house parties or meeting in a shebeen. It could be adding to clusters that people are not letting people know where they were because they shouldn't have been there in the first place.
"And then not saying who they met so there is no contact tracing.
"Open up places and give people a controlled environment to meet up. I think if you had the pubs open there would be traceability.
"People need to look at the big picture and give families a chance to have a Christmas, it's personal responsibility."
He added that international workers living in Ireland would have a tendency to meet up together when all other outlets and shops are shut down.
There is also concern in the west of Limerick regarding the annual influx of visitors from the travelling community in England for their seasonal break in the coming weeks.
"I have been talking to people in Rosslare and they said the increase in traffic in people coming here seasonally every year is on the rise in the last two weeks," said Independent TD Richard O'Donoghue.
"I think everyone coming in and out of Ireland should be tested going in and out of the ports."
Regarding the high 14-day incidence rate of Covid-19 in the region, Limerick City East and Newcastle West have both recorded a rate of 277 per 100,000 over the past two weeks although neighbouring Listowel has an even higher rate of 373.
Letterkenny tops the list with a rate of 389 while, in sharp contrast, Rosslare in Co. Wexford has less than five cases along with the Corca Dhuibhne/Dingle Pensinsula in Kerry.
The University of Limerick has revealed it has been notified of a "very small number of cases" of Covid-19 in relation to students in the last week.
A spokesperson said: "Students at UL have been repeatedly advised to follow public health guidelines, to download the Covid tracker app and to self-isolate if they display any symptoms while they await a test from a GP."
The university has reported there are currently no cases among students in on-campus accommodation.
The college also revealed that UL President Professor Kerstin took to the streets with local gardaí at the start of the semester in off-campus housing estates to remind students to follow public health guidelines.
They also revealed that students at UL are subject to a Code of Conduct in the case of breaching public health guidelines.
"There is no set sanction within the code of conduct for any offence but penalties allowed within the code of conduct include monetary, academic, suspension and expulsion."
University Hospital Limerick currently has six confirmed cases in critical care which is the highest rate in the country after Drogheda Hospital.
In total there are 36 cases in the hospital and seven suspected cases.