Parts of Limerick and Waterford cities are among the top Covid-19 hotspots in the country, as speculation grows that further counties or local areas could come under stricter restrictions later this week if case numbers continue to rise.
A local breakdown of Covid-19 cases and infection rates across 166 local electoral areas (LEA) put parts of the two cities in the top 20 hotspots for the virus in the first two weeks of September.
Over that period, the data shows that Covid-19 was rapidly spreading in Dublin, which had the highest incidence rate in the country at 189.8 cases per 100,000 population in the Mulhuddart and Blanchardstown area to the west of the city.
The average incidence rate across all areas stood at 52.8 cases per 100,000 population nationally over the two-week period.
The Tallaght region also showed a significant rise in Covid-19 cases, with 125 cases confirmed across Tallaght and Tallaght Central electoral areas, while other Covid-19 hotspots were identified in the south-west inner city, Ballymun and Finglas, Balbriggan, and Ongar.
The rise in Covid-19 cases in Dublin led to the city and county moving to level three status this week, requiring people to adhere to tighter public health restrictions and the closure of pubs and restaurants.
Viral spread was not confined to cities, however, with above-average rates evident in Celbridge in Kildare (171.1 cases per 100,000 population), Dundalk in Louth (136.7 cases per 100,000 population) and in Carrick-on-Shannon in Leitrim (132 cases per 100,000 population).
In Munster, parts of Limerick and Waterford cities were the worst affected areas, with rates above 100 per 100,000 population, while rates were lower than the national average across counties Cork, Kerry, Tipperary, and Clare.
Confirmation of 44 cases of Covid-19 in Limerick City North saw the incidence rate rise to 126.8 cases per 100,000 population, while the Adare/Rathkeale area climbed to 101 cases per 100,000 population following confirmation of 28 cases in the first two weeks of September.
A Covid-19 hotspot was also emerging in Tramore and the western part of Waterford City where 23 cases were detected, giving the electoral area an incidence rate of 102.8 cases per 100,000 population.
The virus was also rising in the southern part of Waterford City, Ennis in Clare, Newcastle West and the eastern part of Limerick City, and, to a lesser extent, in Cashel and Cahir in Tipperary and Shannon in Clare.
While incidence rates in Cork City were lower than the national average in the first two weeks of the month, more up-to-date figures for the county show a rise in cases since then. In the two weeks to September 19, 128 cases of Covid-19 were confirmed across Co Cork compared to 100 in Co Limerick and 105 in Co Waterford.
Meanwhile, a leading health expert has argued that all of Ireland should be moved to level three of the Government's 'Living with Covid' plan.
DCU Professor of Health Systems, Dr Anthony Staines, said: "Louth, Donegal, Waterford, and Dublin should move to level four, and the rest of the country should move to level three.
"Because we have got to get ahead of this virus, we cannot continue chasing it around the country, and then when starts rising out of control, only at that point intervening," he told Newstalk Radio.
On Monday, Taoiseach Micheál Martin said that a number of counties with rising Covid-19 rates were being “monitored closely” this week.
Mr Martin has said moving these counties up a level "would not be done lightly".
He said: “Certainly, Louth, Donegal, and Waterford are giving rise for concern, and the CMO [chief medical officer] has said this to us, and obviously, that will be closely monitored and it is a significant decision to move up to level three for any county.
The publication of the LEA data follows calls for a more localised breakdown of Covid-19 infection rates so that people can take heed of hotspots or areas of concern, and comes as pressure grows for any new or further restrictions to be applied by local area rather than county-wide.
Separately, a cardiology ward at one of Ireland’s largest hospitals, Beaumont Hospital in Dublin, has been closed because of an outbreak of Covid-19 from the adjoining Coronary Care Unit.
The outbreak occurred late last week and saw the closure of the Corrigan Ward, a 22-bed cardiology ward within the 820-bed hospital, which employs roughly 3,000 staff.
The outbreak led to a screening process for all staff, in an effort to identify all cases of the virus. It is unclear how many patients and staff were affected by the initial outbreak.
Corrigan Ward runs adjacent to the hospital’s common wards, as well as public and staff areas.
A hospital spokesperson acknowledged that one ward had closed “as a result of close contact precautions”.
“No Covid-19 patients are currently accommodated on this ward,” the spokesperson said, adding that “there have been no outbreaks in critical care facilities”.
The hospital declined to confirm what timelines are in place for the ward to reopen.
The outbreak is the latest to affect the hospital, one of Ireland’s largest medical training facilities. Two weeks ago, three wards were closed after three patients and two members of staff tested positive for the coronavirus, with an additional 10 considered close contacts and asked to self-isolate.