Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly has said there are no plans to introduce a local lockdown in Limerick to curtail the increase in Covid-19 cases across the county.

As part of the response to the sharp rise in cases, additional testing for the virus will be introduced.

Mr Donnelly said that from tomorrow, capacity in one of the pop-up swabbing centres will be doubled and another walk-in centre will be opened next week in a location yet to be confirmed.

An online referral system for people to be tested will also be put in place from tomorrow and there will be a targeted social media advertising campaign.

However, when asked if a local lockdown could be introduced, Mr Donnelly said: "There is no consideration right now whatsoever for any additional measures for the Limerick area".

And he said he is not aware of any plans to set-up a dedicated phoneline to report Covid breaches to gardaí in the county, similar to what was introduced in Donegal last month during a spike in cases.

Mr Donnelly was speaking after a virtual meeting this afternoon between national and local officials and public representatives, which he described as a "really positive and constructive call."

Public Heath Mid-West has reiterated its appeal for people to enjoy the coming weekend in a responsible manner.

It said more than 830 cases have been confirmed across the city and county in the last fortnight, with a 14-day incidence of 425 cases per 100,000. Yesterday, there were 75 new cases in Limerick, with 12 in Clare and five in North Tipperary.

It has also said it is aware of "a small number" of Leaving Cert students who will now miss out on examinations as a result of being a confirmed case, or a close contact of a case.

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"The catalyst for this multi-community outbreak was indoor gatherings, including household visits, organised small to large social events, family and extended family gatherings, birthday parties, and house parties," it said.

It added: "We know this from extensive interviews by Department of Public Health staff and contact tracers over the past number of weeks.

"This has had a significant knock-on effect in the community, adversely affecting settings such as workplaces and schools.

"We are aware of a number of outbreaks that have led to local businesses and schools to temporarily close. These clusters have compounded active outbreaks in the community".

Mr Donnelly said Limerick's incidence rate was not only is it the highest in the country, "but it's two-and-a-half times higher than [the next highest county]"

However, he said there is no indication that any variants of concern are playing a role in the increase.

"The advice I have is that [what we are seeing in Limerick] is not linked to the Delta or Indian variant. It is the B.117 or UK variant and just social interaction."

Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan, Deputy Chief Medical Officer Dr Ronan Glynn and Director of Public Health for HSE Mid-West Dr Mai Mannix, also attended the meeting.

Afterwards, Dr Holohan said infections in Limerick were "mostly occurring in people who are in the unvaccinated age groups, right across the ages, from young children, right the way up to people close to 50.

"We know it's occurring as a result of exposures that are taking place in many settings - in workplaces, some outbreaks occurring in schools and we've seen outbreaks associated with parties and indoor gatherings and things of that nature.

"So the message to the people of Limerick has got to be: while you're waiting for your vaccine - and vaccines are just around the corner - follow the public health advice."

Mr Donnelly also confirmed this evening that additional pop-up testing centres would be brought in in the coming days at Stephenites GAA Club in Ballina, Co Mayo, Gorey Civic Centre in Co Wexford and Tullow Health Centre in Co Carlow.

'Multiplier effect'

Earlier, the CEO of the Health Service Executive said the high level of outbreaks of Covid-19 in Limerick are arising in workplace settings, social gatherings and households and this has created a very volatile situation.

Speaking on RTÉ's Morning Ireland, Paul Reid said the "multiplier effect" can quickly lead to a rise in cases.

He said there was a 10% rise in Covid-19 cases across the country last week, with increased community referrals, however despite cases being in the mid-400s, there is not the same impact on hospital services.

He said there are people in their 30s and 40s with no underlying conditions in ICUs with Covid-19 so "nobody is immune from this virus".

Mr Reid said that 2.9 million vaccinations have now been completed, with 53% of the population having one dose and 25% now fully vaccinated.

He welcomed the intervention by the Minister for Health and the Chief Medical Officer, ahead of the meeting with Limerick health officials and politicians today, and said this could be powerful and can help to turn the situation around.

The Director of Service Operations at Limerick City Council said the local authority is very conscious of the surge of Covid-19 in the county and has appealed to the public to follow HSE guidelines if meeting people this weekend.

Kieran Lehane said given the rise in cases the public need to "go back to the basics [and] always wear your mask in a crowded place".

He said that extra bins and portaloos will be provided at popular outdoor locations over the weekend, but that people should avoid large gatherings and indoor gatherings.

Over 17,000 Covid tests carried out in Limerick over nearly thre weeks

More than 17,000 Covid tests have been carried out in Limerick in just under three weeks.

Across two testing sites in Limerick city since 16 May, a total of 17,248 Covid tests were carried out.

According to figures from HSE Mid West Community Healthcare, 3,978 tests were carried out at the temporary walk-in centre at St Joseph's health campus in the city since it opened on 26 May.

More than 1,000 people were tested at the city’s main test centre, in Ballysimon, on 24 May.

On 27 May, nearly 1,500 people were tested across both Limerick sites. On the same day in Clare, 119 people were tested.

Dr Mai Mannix of Public Health Mid-West said they were "going through a period of active case finding".

"With regards the high incidence rate in Limerick, we are currently going through a period of active case finding, allowing us to track, trace, and follow the disease in the region.

"Things will get worse before they get better, but we are hopeful we will overcome this outbreak with the help of the public availing of walk-in testing and adhering to Public Health guidelines," Dr Mannix said.

Additional reporting Maria Flannery