Northern Ireland news

Spike in Co Down Covid cases linked to household outbreaks as community 'rally' to support those in quarantine

There have been 16 clusters of coronavirus cases in Northern Ireland since mid-May
Seanín Graham

A spike in coronavirus cases in Co Down is being linked to household outbreaks - with a councillor praising the community spirit of those leaving food and jigsaws outside a quarantined family's gates.

Figures from the Department of Health show 34 cases have been recorded in the Newry, Mourne and Down area in the past fortnight – the highest of all district councils areas across the north.

The Public Health Agency (PHA) was yesterday unable to clarify if a cluster was identified, with a spokeswoman saying it could lead to people being identified, "create stigma" and potentially deter others with symptoms from coming forward to be tested.

However, SDLP councillor Karen McKevitt said she knew of a household where someone had tested positive.

"A family I know has recently been diagnosed. A frontline worker got it, then his wife and father-in-law. The rest of the family were okay," she said.

"I wasn't expecting it but people really rallied. In the Newry, Mourne and Down area the community has stepped up to the mark and been amazing. They took a breath in when they heard but the reaction has been so positive.

"People were making sure the family had food. They were leaving home-made meals, jigsaws, colouring-in books and books for the family to read over the gate.

"The family did not leave their home for 14 days. There's some positives around Covid - it's still really scary but people are taking it seriously."

Latest figures from the PHA show by July 20, there were 16 'clusters' identified across the north since mid-May. No updates were provided yesterday but more information is expected next week.

A total of 87 positive tests have been reported to the PHA's contracting tracing service over the past seven days, with its team contacting and advising 242 people.

Newry and Armagh MLA Justin McNulty said he while he understood there are difficulties for public health authorities around disclosure, he believed the public should be "treated as adults" and given more information.

"In general the public has followed the guidance exceptionally well and I think that's probably been demonstrated by the figures. They're not anywhere near what we expected," he said.

"That's no consolation for anyone who has lost lost ones. But I think the public health authorities should treat the public as adults and pass on the information that they feel they require."

When asked to comment on whether the higher number of Covid-19 positive cases in the Newry, Mourne and Down area was linked to household transmission, a PHA spokeswoman said it was aware of "ongoing speculation" around current clusters of coronavirus.

"We will not be commenting on individual cases of Covid-19 or going into the detail of every incident that emerges, as this could lead to people being identified, create stigma and focus attention on individuals, families or groups, and therefore deter others with symptoms coming forward to be tested," she said.

"As we move through the coronavirus pandemic, clusters of cases are expected. This is why the Test, Trace and Protect programme is in place to help ensure that people are tested when symptoms emerge, and their contacts traced quickly if they receive a positive result, to help prevent further spread."

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