The incidence of Covid-19 in the State has surpassed that of the UK for the first time since the pandemic started, according to official data.
The 14-day incidence of the disease has increased sevenfold in the State in the space of three weeks, to reach 16.9 cases per 100,000 of population, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control said in an update on Monday.
This compares to a figure of 16.5 in the UK, which a month ago had an incidence almost eight times that of Ireland. Since then, case numbers in the UK have been steady, although on Sunday they exceeded 1,000 for the first time since June.
The spike in cases in the State has largely been driven by clusters involving staff working in meat processing factories in Kildare and Offaly and has prompted the introduction of local movement restrictions in the counties as well as in Laois.
Figures provided to The Irish Times on Monday by the Department of Health show the 14-day incidence of Covid-19 in Co Kildare stands at 138.4 cases per 100,000 of population, almost eight times the national average. The rates in Offaly and Laois stood at 109 and 83.8 respectively while the national rate for the period was 17.5 cases per 100,000 people, the department said.
There were calls on Monday for one of the affected meat plants, Carroll’s Cuisine in Tullamore, Co Offaly, to voluntarily close its doors while a cluster there is handled. Nine workers at the plant have tested positive for the disease and more than 200 of its staff were tested on Sunday.
Minister of State Seán Fleming, a Laois-Offaly TD, said that if the company “doesn’t do the right thing” and close then the State should take action.
“I am calling on them to close, to show solidarity with the local community,” he told RTÉ Radio’s Today with Sarah McInerney show. “I expect that before this day is out that this factory will close. Three out of the four have done the right thing.”
Kildare Chilling in Kildare town, which had registered 150 cases, and O’Brien Fine Foods in Timahoe, with 86 cases, have suspended production, while Irish Dog Foods in Naas, where 53 cases have been reported, has delayed plans to reopen.
Carroll’s Cuisine said on Sunday that it would remain open but is being “constantly vigilant on every possible front” regarding the outbreak.
Meanwhile, regulations making face coverings mandatory in shops and other indoor public settings such as hairdressers and museums are now in force.
Similar to the regulations requiring people to wear face masks on public transport, those in breach of the rules can be fined up to €2,500 or face six months imprisonment.
The regulations apply to shops, supermarkets, shopping centres, retail outlets, hairdressers, nail bars, museums, libraries, and cinemas. The requirement does not extend to restaurants, bars, cafes, or post offices, credit unions and banks. Premises providing healthcare services such as opticians or dentists are also exempt.