PLAYGROUNDS across Co Kildare have been closed until further notice in an effort to reduce non-essential contacts in the fight against Covid-19, but the county council will keep its parks open for now.
People are being urged to curb their enthusiasm for breaching the social distancing recommendations and not to travel to popular locations where large numbers were witnessed over the weekend.
A total of 20 people have been formally diagnosed with the virus in Kildare so far (at the time of going to press). In line with the population this puts Kildare in fifth behind Dublin (402), Cork (101), Galway (25) and Wicklow (22) of people diagnosed.
So far four people out of the 906 diagnosed nationally have died, 211 have been hospitalized, and 9 admitted to ICU but these figures are expected to rise significantly in the coming days making social distancing, hand washing and sneezing and coughing etiquette all the more important.
After a pub in Newbridge was found on Friday to have admitted a small number of patrons, local gardaí have confirmed that both licenced and non-licenced premises where people are likely to congregate will be inspected in the Kildare area and “people have been reminded of their obligations”.
“We will be keeping a lid on all such premises,” said a garda source.
A dim view is being taken of the episode and objections may well be made when the pub looks for its licence to be renewed.
Elsewhere, Naas GAA Club issued a statement asking parents not to drop off their children at the club, the gardaí do not regard this as a problem for them to date.
“The club officers are hugely concerned to see a large number of parents dropping children and teenagers off to the club all day today to play on the pitches,” a spokesperson said.
“Naas GAA club is officially closed and no members should be on the premises and especially not in groups as seen over the weekend,” they added.
Cllr Bill Clear showed some sympathy, saying: “I understand why teenagers want to be with their friends…but a lot of them are just pucking a ball to each other…but we have to remember that 20 per cent of children have asthma”.
“There are a lot of underlying conditions, so I’d say just be mindful. Not everyone is in the fullness of their health,” he said.
“The community response has been great,” he said although he did caution about having “to put down a lot of silly rumours”.
“Rumours thrive in a vacuum,” he warned.
A similar message was given by Newbridge town soccer club who urged people not to trespass on their grounds.
Meanwhile Deputy James Lawless called for drone technology to be used to survey and disperse crowds gathering in public spaces.
He said drones could be used proactively, to survey the number of people gathering in public spaces meaning that gardaí can take action sooner to close roads or carparks. Drones with inbuilt audio equipment could also relay messages warning people about the social distancing guidelines.
“I understand this is something which we would not ordinarily be calling for, the flying of drones above people has both safety and GDPR ramifications, but these are extraordinary times and call for extraordinary measures.
“It is only natural for people to want to go outside in the good weather but the belief that they are safe in the open air is completely cancelled out when hundreds of people gather in the same place, it has to be discouraged in any way possible,” he concluded.
Many people took to social media to vent their anger and frustration at the groups they witnessed out socialising throughout the county at the weekend. . People complained that it was not just teenagers who were congregating. Runners and cyclists were also witnessed not to be observing the two metre social distancing recommendation.
But the people’s community spirit is also shining through in these dark days with many stories of groups coming together to ensure that their elderly neighbours are not left isolated or without a hot meal.
In other business, Naas and Athy District Courts are technically going ahead today (24 March) in Naas Courthouse, but will all be adjourned until 6 June, and neither solicitors nor defendants are required to attend until then.
Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan said these new cases over the weekend were most likely exposed to Covid-19 before the introduction of the public health measures implemented on Friday 13 March.
He also said public health doctors carrying out contact tracing were advising that confirmed cases were now reporting fewer contacts, which he said was an encouraging sign that people were following the public health guidance.
He acknowledged the efforts of everyone adhering to public health advice and said they were actively helping to “flatten the curve” and limit the spread of the virus.
Dr Holohan said anyone waiting to be tested should act as though their test is positive and should self isolate while waiting.
The current wait time for a Covid-19 test is around five days with approximately 40,000 people waiting to be swabbed, and the HSE expects the backlog to be tackled in the coming days.
HSE Chief Executive, Paul Reid, acknowledged there was a delay in people being tested for the Covid-19 virus, but that progress had been made with 40,000 kits being distributed at the moment and 20,000 more would be available on Wednesday.
He said the HSE was in advanced negotiations with China to secure another 100,000.
Across Ireland, 50 test centres have been set up. There are 35 are currently operational including the LE Samuel Beckett which began operating as a test centre on Sir John Rogerson’s Quay in Dublin on Friday.
The Chief Medical Officer has said that if social distancing works the rate of growth in new cases should begin to slow down by the end of this month or the beginning of April. There would still be new cases but at a slower rate than before. He said that is the big prize that every citizen is working towards.