Coronavirus Q&A: What is behind the spike in cases in Ireland? Should we be concerned?

Should we be concerned about a spike in Covid-19 cases this week?

Well, acting chief medical officer Dr Ronan Glynn, Ireland’s most senior public health official, said he is “very concerned”. Announcing 85 new cases on Thursday – dramatically pushing the daily average up from around 20 to the low 30s – Dr Glynn said the coming days will be crucial in understanding whether this was just a “blip” or whether the spread of the virus is starting to escalate again after weeks of remaining stable. “Clearly we need to watch this closely,” he said. A further 38 new cases were confirmed on Friday, bringing to 123 the number of cases confirmed over the past two days.

A survey of GP’s has indicated that the vast majority of patients who had contacted them with Covid-like symptoms in the past week had not been self-isolating since the onset of their symptoms, which is a further concern.

What is behind the surge in new cases?

84 of the 123 cases are linked to known outbreaks or clusters or are close contacts of other confirmed cases. These included family homes and building sites but also, notably, a pet food factory in Co Kildare. More than a fifth of the 85 newly confirmed cases on Thursday were among workers at Irish Dog Foods in Naas. The factory, which employs around 200 people, closed down a week ago for a deep clean while workers who tested positive for the coronavirus were ordered to self-isolate. A Health Service Executive (HSE) outbreak control team was also assigned to the plant.

Overall 44 cases over the past two days are located in Kildare, 33 are in Dublin, 11 in Clare, 10 in Laois, eight in Limerick and the remaining 17 are located across 10 counties.

Why was there an outbreak at the pet food factory?

Public health officials have yet to get more detail on the transmission of the disease through workers. In May, there was a wave of clusters at meat factories around the country, where employees work in prolonged close proximity to each other, increasing the risk of transmitting the virus.

Irish Dog Foods said it has “a full range of measures in place including appropriate PPE (personal protection equipment), enhanced cleaning and hygiene regimes, social distancing measures, temperature screening and regular staff health and hygiene training and communications to help combat the virus.”