People living in border counties are being urged to remain vigilant to the threat posed by Covid-19, amid concerns about high rates of transmission in some areas.
The Health Service Executive and Northern Ireland’s Public Health Agency have issued a joint statement, warning of the risk of increased infection in the coming weeks as restrictions are eased.
The authorities said that if people fail to stick to public health guidance, there will be an inevitable rise in the number of coronavirus cases and a possible reimposition of lockdown measures.
The warning comes after Chief Medical Officer Tony Holohan expressed concern about persistently above average rates of infection in Co Donegal.
The Milford and Letterkenny Local Electoral Areas (LEA) have the highest rates of the virus per 100,000 people in the State at present.
Dr Holohan said there were clear examples of non-compliance with guidelines, leading to outbreaks in lots of different settings around the county.
People are being asked to be especially cautious about cross-border activity.
They are asked not to move beyond what guidelines permit over the coming weeks, or to take advantage of differing circumstances on either side of the border.
Head of Health Protection at the PHA Dr Gerry Waldron said the public needs to act responsibly to help keep case numbers down and ultimately save lives.
The HSE and PHA said levels of interaction in the coming weeks will effectively determine whether lockdown measures have to be re-introduced.
Director of Public Health for HSE North West Dr Anthony Breslin has emphasised the importance of hand washing, maintaining social distance, and mask wearing.
He has also warned against complacency as a result of the vaccine rollout.
Dr Breslin said that while the programme has an important role in the battle against Covid-19, other public health steps were still vitally important in trying to contain the spread of the virus.
Extra resources may be required to deal with the lack of compliance with Covid-19 regulations in Donegal, according to Fine Gael TD Joe McHugh.
He has sought an urgent meeting between Donegal Oireachtas members and National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) and the Health Minister Stephen Donnelley.
Speaking on RTÉ Raidió na Gaeltachta today, Mr McHugh said he hopes this meeting can be facilitated this weekend.
“After hearing what the Chief Medical Officer, Dr Tony Holohan had to say yesterday evening about his concerns around the level of cases in Donegal and the levels of non compliance compared to the rest of the country, I contacted the Health Minister and asked him to arrange a meeting between himself, NPHET and Donegal Oireachtas members.
“I am hoping that this meeting can be facilitated this weekend.
“This is a serious and and urgent matter and we need to discuss if more resources are required to deal with the situation in Donegal”.
Professor Philip Nolan, Chair of NPHET’s Epidemiological Modelling Advisory Group, has said it is always possible a regional approach might have to be taken to suppress the virus in certain parts of the country.
Speaking on RTÉ’s Saturday with Katie Hannon he said it works under certain circumstances and that it worked last summer when it had to be done in certain counties.
He said there will be outbreaks of Covid-19 in areas where it is more difficult to suppress the virus, referring to the current situation in Donegal.
He said while “we are not at that point yet”, regional restrictions could be required at some stage.
He said where there is a high level of the virus in an area, local engagement is necessary to work with the local community to understand why this is happening and to bring the number of cases under control.