Northern Ireland news

Covid cases cluster in Co Down area creates 'ghost town'

South Down councillors have written to health minister Robin Swann seeking clarity on a rumoured spike in Covid-19 cases
Seanín Graham

A GROUP of councillors has written to the health minister seeking clarity about a 'cluster' of coronavirus cases in Co Down - which they say has reduced the area to a "ghost town".

The Rowallane representatives warned "hearsay" had resulted in Crossgar residents staying indoors while two cafes temporarily closed their doors.

Data from the Department of Health dashboard confirmed 11 people tested positive for Covid-19 over the past week in the Newry, Mourne and Down District council area - which has a population of more than 180,000 people.

 The BBC yesterday eported that up to 16 people in Crossgar and the neighbouring town of Ballynahinch - which are part of the council area - have the virus, with two cases hospitalised.

The Public Health Agency (PHA) yesterday insisted however there were no clusters in the "Newry, Mourne and Down area," other than "household related infections".

PHA officials do not provide exact geographical breakdowns due to "people being identified" and "deterring those (with) symptoms coming forward to be tested".

DUP Rowallene councillor Kathryn Owen called for an urgent cross-party meeting.

She said restaurants, hairdressers and beauticians had all received cancellations.

"Myself and the four other Rowallene councillors met and decided the best course of action was to write to Minister Swann in order to get clarity as far as the demographics and where the clusters are," she said

"At the moment, we're going on hearsay and rumour. Businesses are worried and while some have closed there is no reason why others can't continue to trade so long as they follow the letter of the guidance in terms of screens, hand washing and social distancing.

"But if businesses can't deliver those assurances, then they need to review that. Crossgar is a like a ghost town today."

One local mother who shielded during lockdown said she was "afraid" to use local shops and that more information was required.

"Crossgar is such a small village and it is very frightening to hear talk of a cluster of cases here," said the woman, who wished to remain anonymous.

"The health authorities have a duty of care to all of us and we are afraid to leave our homes. With small children, that is very difficult. We deserve to know the truth."

South Down Sinn Féin MLA Emma Rogan said she had been "inundated" with calls from constituents and called on the PHA to "allay fears".

The PHA warned the virus has "the potential to make its presence felt in any district" and urged caution about interpreting trends.

"With some ongoing community transmission of Covid-19, it is expected that there will be variation in the number of cases detected across geographical areas, and with small numbers of cases, we must be cautious about the significance of these variations," a spokeswoman said.

"PHA will continue to monitor all cases, look for trends and linked cases and where we need to advise or inform the public of any increased risk to public health we will do so in a timely manner.

"Everyone should act on the basis that it might potentially be in their neighbourhood right now. That’s why following the public health advice on regular hand washing and maintaining a social distance of two metres remains vitally important."

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