The Taoiseach has said Cork City is now a “danger area” for Covid-19, given the rapid rise in cases during the last fortnight, raising fears that a lockdown may be imminent.
Infection rates have been rising in urban areas, and Micheál Martin has said public health officials are “very concerned” about the cities of Cork, Limerick, Galway, and Waterford.
However, he said there is still “the opportunity” to avoid tighter restrictions if everyone rigidly adheres to public health guidelines.
Of the 326 new Covid-19 cases announced last night, 32 were in Cork. That was the second-highest total after Dublin, which has 152 cases.
“In places like Cork City, cases have been going up in a straight line in the past two weeks," said Mr Martin. "That is a worry — between 20 and 30 cases a day. Likewise in other city areas. Those are danger areas right now."
But Cork "is coming from a low base", he said, and there is still "an opportunity" to reverse the trend.
The National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) may advise the Government to bring in localised lockdowns in cities like Cork, leaving the wider county to operate more freely if infection rates remain lower there.
"They [NPHET] are concerned about urban centres,” said Mr Martin.
“Cork, Limerick, Galway, and Waterford — particularly as universities and institutes of technology reopen in the coming weeks. That is a concern — where you have high-density populations, the virus can thrive."
Mr Martin said that there is “no magic number” of Covid cases an area has to reach before it moves to level three.
However, on the upward trend in Cork City and other urban centres, he added: “The trend is wrong at the moment, and reversing it is key. That can prevent us from getting to phase three."
Meanwhile, the HSE, Gardaí, and local authorities have appealed to the people of Cork to re-double their efforts to stop the spread of the virus.
The regional inter-agency emergency management group said that the number of confirmed cases of Covid-19 has increased over the last seven days, and the city and county are now at a "critical juncture".
Michael Fitzgerald, chair of the area HSE crisis management team, expressed concern about the increasing numbers, particularly cases which have spread in social settings.
"We are once again at a critical point,” he said. "The actions we all take right now will dictate the spread of the virus over the coming weeks."
Acting director of public health for the region, Dr Anne Sheahan, said that while there is evidence of some community transmission of the virus, many recent confirmed cases can be traced back to transmission within family groups and groups of friends.
“It is crucial that we all act right now to reduce the number of people we come into contact with," she said.
"I appreciate that this is a big ask of people, but the alternative is that we see a continued rise in the number of cases.”