EIGHT rank and file gardaí have tested positive for Covid-19 in Cork since March 16, according to the Garda Representative Association.
The figures relate to the three Cork garda divisions, and an additional 63 rank and file members had to isolate because of issues relating to the infection, including underlying health conditions or family situations at home.
GRA president Jim Mulligan told The Echo: "Gardaí are high risk as vectors of the disease to the wider population because of the massive level of public interaction in our work.
"The end to priority testing of gardaí means a member could be infected for over a week before getting a test result.
"This is particularly outrageous in the 52 cases to date of people weaponizing Covid-19 against our members.
"The relatively small number that need tests make prioritisation an obvious and simple risk-mitigation measure for AGS but this needs NPHET authorisation.
"Movement restrictions must be enforced. Gardaí would prefer not to instruct people and inquire into their business in this way but it is absolutely necessary.
"At a time when the whole country is putting their shoulder to the wheel to save lives, it is essential that everyone pushes in the same direction.
"Anything that undermines this national effort is nothing other than unpatriotic.
“We all have a duty to save lives by maintaining social distance and gardaí have a job of work to ensure this happens.
"Our members should not be deliberately endangered for carrying out their duty in protecting the public from this virus."
His comments follow several incidents of gardaí being coughed at, spat at and threatened by people claiming to be infected with Covid-19.
As well as carrying out checkpoints to ensure people are following public health restrictions, gardaí nationwide have been delivering medication, food and other services to the homes of vulnerable people and the elderly who are "cocooning" as part of a special garda operation for Covid-19.
The Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors has also expressed disappointment that gardaí are no longer being deemed priority for Covid-19 testing.
AGSI general secretary Antoinette Cunningham said: “We had already informed our members that priority testing would be available.
"AGSI supports priority testing for our members to ensure capacity in the force at all times and have asked Garda management to review this decision.”
Meanwhile, Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan announced yesterday that a new service has been launched to enable a prisoner’s family to pay money at the counter in any post office for the benefit of their relative in prison.
This is because family visits at prisons are not possible due to restrictions put in place to help prevent the spread of Covid-19 into the prison system.
Minister Flanagan said: “The restrictions on movements as a result of Covid-19 have been hard on all our communities but especially hard on prison families as they are further separated from their loved ones.
"The Irish Prison Service has moved quickly to introduce a number of new and innovative initiatives aimed at helping families support their loved ones who are in prison.
"The introduction of video visits, electronic money transfers and now this new An Post BillPay Card service have all allowed families to support prisoners by keeping in contact and by providing funds for use in prison tuck shops without having to travel long distances to prisons.
"I want to commend the officials in the Irish Prison Service and An Post for working together to devise this innovative solution which will not only serve families and prisoners during the current crisis but will have longstanding benefits into the future.”
Sources in the system say there have been no cases of the infection among the prison population.
However, there are fears that when prison visits return in the coming months, there could be a risk of Covid-19 breaking out in the system.
One source said: "The reality is that we are weeks and weeks away from anything changing."