There have been calls for more walk-in Covid testing centres and improved communication of public health messages to help address the spread of infections in Co Donegal.

It follows a virtual meeting last night involving the Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly, the Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan and political and council representatives.

The meeting was called after figures from the National Public Health Emergency Team showed that Donegal had the highest incidence rate in the country at 293.4.

The national 14-day incidence rate per 100,000 is 127.3.

Minister for Agriculture and Donegal TD Charlie McConalogue described the meeting as "very useful and very constructive".

He said there had been a very strong response from Donegal communities to rising infections and a clear desire to bring down Covid numbers.

Fine Gael TD Joe McHugh said the need for an increased number of walk-in test centres outside Letterkenny was discussed, as well as better communication of the public health message via local media outlets in the county.

Sinn Féin TD Pádraig MacLochlainn said there was a clear need for more widespread testing to control the spread of the virus and he said concerns were also voiced about the manner in which the vaccination programme was being rolled out locally.

Across Donegal there is a striking variation in the rate of Covid-19 infection.

Latest figures show the Milford and Letterkenny electoral areas have the highest rates in the country, at around five times the national average.

But in contrast, infections in the Donegal local electoral area - in the south of the county - are around three times lower than the national average.

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lndependent TD Thomas Pringle said it was disappointing to hear about the high Covid rates along the border, but he was not surprised due to Government's "mixed messaging".

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Regional restrictions 'always possible'

Chair of NPHET's Epidemiological Modelling Advisory Group Professor Philip Nolan 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.

Meanwhile, 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 re-imposition of lockdown measures.