Additional testing centres are being considered after a surge in Covid-19 cases in Donegal, HSE chief executive Paul Reid has said.
r Reid said although some parts of the county are below the national average, there are some areas of concern.
It comes as a junior government minister said local lockdowns could not be ruled out to control outbreaks.
“Donegal is a very big county and like many counties has made really big sacrifices to get us where we are,” Mr Reid said on RTÉ Radio One’s This Week programme.
“Within Donegal, some parts of the county are below the national average levels.”
Figures from National Health Emergency Team showed Covid-19 cases for Donegal were the highest in the country, with an incidence rate of 293.4. The national 14-day incidence rate per 100,000 is 127.3.
Yesterday, a meeting took place between Minster for Health Stephen Donnelly, Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan and local politicians to discuss the rise in cases in Donegal.
Mr Reid said: “The engagement yesterday with the minister and some TDs and other groups was very helpful. From our perspective we already have and do have a test site in Letterkenny which is a walk in facility.”
As well as the walk-in testing facility in Letterkenny, Mr Reid said further “walk-in sites” are being considered in Donegal.
Mr Reid emphasised that testing is a “second line of defence – but public health measures are the first line of defence, not just in Donegal but all across the country.
There are currently 35 “static” test centres across the country and “six or so pop-up centres that we move and mobilise into areas where we see high transmission levels”, said Mr Reid.
“Thirty-six centres will be up and running from next week, two further centres will be added the following week,” he said.
Earlier, Minister of State of Land Use and Biodiversity Pippa Hackett said the introduction of local lockdowns may be needed to tackle community transmission.
Speaking on RTÉ’s The Week In Politics, the senator said efforts made in her native Co. Offaly reversed the trend of Covid-19 cases in recent weeks when a walk-in centre was opened.
“It is Donegal this week. It could be another county or area in another few weeks,” Ms Hackett said, adding that public health measures were as important as ever.
“We have to ask people in the county there to keep up vigilance,” she said.
Mr Reid said this week, the HSE plans to administer 220 to 240,000 vaccines.
He said more than 1.59 million vaccines have been administered in total, and 30pc of the population have now received their first dose and 12 pc of the population have received their second dose.
He added that in April, 780,000 vaccines were administered.
The government had hoped to administer 250,000 vaccines a week in May and June but Mr Reid said the government are now working on a “revised plan” which will involve getting “clarity from suppliers with each of the four vaccines”.
He said: “As we know, we’ve had a really rocky delivery, particularly from AstraZeneca. Johnson & Johnson is a new vaccine on the block, we have to see how that arrives in terms of delivery.”
Part of the revised plan will also look at vaccinating different age cohorts and continuing the rollout by age “because that is where the risk factor is”, he said.
Mr Reid added that it was important to make the best use of the different types of vaccinesm with Johnson & Johnson only requiring one shot, and it and AstraZeneca being easier to transport and store than Pfizer.
“We don’t want three of four hundred thousand vaccines sitting in a fridge not being able to utilise,” he said.
Mr Reid said: “Is there a potential that one age group could be called in parallel with another? That would be fine to an extent – but what you wouldn’t be finding is dropping down through ages.”
He said skipping directly from the 50s age group to people in their 30s “wouldn’t be good from a public health prospective”.
He added that “one of the key restraining factors” is that AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson can only be used for the over 50s, saying “that does offer a considerable constraint”.
Mr Reid said he doesn’t expect the 650,000 Johnson & Johnson jabs due at the end of June to arrive earlier.
“All we can go on is experience, and experience hasn’t been that we are getting deliveries earlier. Our experience has been that they are pushed out so I think that would be good to have but we can’t build a plan based on if they might come earlier,” he said.
In terms of pharmacies administering vaccines, he said currently the vaccines are “not suitable” for pharmacies due to “transportation and logistics issues” and no decision has yet been made whether pharmacies will be administering vaccines.
Mr Reid said he “rejects” reports that vaccination centres are not being efficient enough to keep vaccination numbers up.
“We’ve had our highest day ever this week on Friday of over 44,000 completed,” he said.
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