As the Government monitors rising Covid-19 infection rates in six counties, there were signals that some cities could see more localised restrictions where viral hotspots emerge.
Donegal has joined Dublin as the second county to move up to level three status, requiring tougher public health restrictions, limits on social interactions and on what businesses can remain open.
The move followed a sharp rise in Covid-19 infection numbers in Co Donegal, where 162 cases were detected in the last week alone.
The county has also become the focus of national headlines after more localised data published this week showed that the Lifford/ Stranorlar electoral area now has the highest Covid-19 infection rate in the country.
In the two-week period to September 21, 87 cases were detected among the 26,000 people living in the area, giving it an infection rate of 336.1 cases per 100,000 population.
By comparison, the highest infection rate in Dublin, which moved to Level 3 last week, is 191.3 cases per 100,000 population in the south west inner city area, where 81 cases were confirmed over a two-week period.
Across the country, some 2,049 cases and five deaths were confirmed since last Saturday, after a prolonged period with no daily deaths recorded. Half of the cases were in Dublin (1,018).
As of yesterday, 94 people were in hospital and 16 people were in intensive care due to Covid-19.
There is now concern for rising Covid-19 numbers in Cork, Louth, Kildare, Wicklow, Waterford, and Galway, which could also see tighter restrictions unless the current growth rate is curbed.
Across Co Cork, the number of cases has risen considerably in the past week, with 184 cases confirmed in the last seven days, and parts of the city, Mallow, Fermoy, and Cobh showing the highest infection rates in the county.
The north eastern part of Cork City has the highest infection rate in the county at 56.9 cases per 100,000 population as of September 21, which remains below the national average of 70.7 cases per 100,000 population.
There are obvious Covid-19 hotspots of concern, however, in Kildare, Louth, and Wicklow.
The Celbridge area of Co Kildare has the second highest infection rate nationally at 300.6 cases per 100,000 population — 65 cases were confirmed among its 22,000 population in the two-week period to September 21. In the past week, 106 cases were confirmed in Co Kildare.
The Bray area in Co Wicklow is another area of concern, with an infection rate of 206.5 cases per 100,000 population as of September 21 — 38 cases were detected among a population of 18,000 in the previous two weeks.
Co Louth is also being watched closely, in particular the Dundalk and Carlingford area, which has the highest rate of infection in the county — 179.7 cases per 100,000 population after 46 cases were confirmed among a population of 26,000 in the previous two weeks.
Galway and Waterford are also being monitored closely although the daily number of new cases in Waterford has remained in single digits this week.
Department of Health officials on both sides of the border have urged people to avoid “all but necessary” travel between jurisdictions given the rising infection rates in Donegal and Derry and other border areas.
Taoiseach Micheál Martin has expressed concern about rising numbers in Cork, Limerick, Galway, and Waterford cities where colleges and universities are reopening, and signalled that the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) may recommend more localised restrictions if numbers continue to rise.
“NPHET may advise in terms of particularly localised restrictions though, to date, it has been on a county by county basis,” he said.
Dublin City University professor of public health Anthony Staines said: Given the rise in Covid-19 numbers, more widespread restrictions are needed to get ahead of the virus and suggested that “most” of the country should move to level four, while some counties could remain at level three .
“We need widespread restrictions and to control it county by county and maybe by smaller areas in urban centres like Dublin and Cork,” he said.
Prof Staines also made a case for managing Covid-19 “locally” through an action plan drawn up by local public health officials in association with local authorities. “Local knowledge, local understanding, local plans will get this down,” he said.
Prof Staines, a member of the Irish Scientific Advocacy Group, reiterated the need to adopt a ‘zero Covid’ approach, adding that it would be another 10 to 12 months, at the earliest, before a vaccine would emerge.
"We have a choice. We can keep doing what we’re doing, zigging and zagging up and down until we get a vaccine, or we can do something about it now,” he said.
“We need to push it down to zero and keep it there. Then we can get our lives, and the economy, back.”