'We have to be cautious': Cork doctor says continued vigilance needed, warning gatherings could become 'super-spreader' events

'We have to be cautious': Cork doctor says continued vigilance needed, warning gatherings could become 'super-spreader' events

Cork doctor, Dr John Sheehan said that the images of crowds at the weekend were “concerning”. Picture Denis Minihane.

A Cork doctor has voiced concerns after images emerged of crowds gathering in Cork at the weekend, warning that the “big concern with large crowds is that they could become super-spreader events”.

Dr John Sheehan made the comments following reports of crowds gathering at a number of locations in the city and county over the weekend. Uniformed gardaí were dispatched to disperse crowds gathered at Kennedy Quay and along Grand Parade on Saturday with the assistance of the Public Order Unit. Twelve people were arrested in Cork on Saturday for public order offences.

Meanwhile, Cllr Audrey Buckley, who lives in the Crosshaven area, said that she had serious concerns after large volumes of people gathered in the village and surrounding areas, with cars “unable to move”.

Audrey Buckley, Fianna Fáil councillor. 
Audrey Buckley, Fianna Fáil councillor. 

The county councillor said that in some cases “people were locked into their houses because cars parked across their driveway” and expressed concerns about how emergency services could get access if needed. “We’re prisoners on weekends in our own homes,” she said.

The traffic was just one issue affecting the area over the weekend though, and Ms Buckely said she was particularly concerned about reports of antisocial behaviour among young people who descended on beaches.

In one video, seen by The Echo, large volumes of young people can be seen gathering on rocks with little social distancing.

The councillor said she received reports that groups were throwing a lifebuoy around on the beach and throwing bottles into swimmers.

“It’s amazing that someone hasn’t been drowned or killed in there. I’ve had calls about youngsters falling back down to the bus in the village. The village was meant to have been like the wild west with kids everywhere, a lot of them drunk.”

The county councillor said while she believes there is an excellent community garda service in Crosshaven, more resources are needed.

Ms Buckley said she is also very concerned about the amount of litter being generated and has reiterated her call for Cork County Council to take more action to help address the issue.

Cork County Council said that it remains committed to “a significant level of resources to street cleaning across the county” but added: “A high degree of personal responsibility needs to be borne by individual consumers”.

'We've come so far'

Speaking to The Echo, Cork City Councillor and Blackpool-based GP, Dr John Sheehan said that the images of crowds at the weekend were “concerning”.

“It is concerning because we’ve come so far and we’ve done so well.

“The numbers have not increased — but they are still hovering around the 400 [mark] though, so I think it’s important that people remember that. That is more than we had last December when the numbers were around 250 a day and then it took off. We have to be cautious,” he said.

Dr. John Sheehan. Picture Dan Linehan
Dr. John Sheehan. Picture Dan Linehan

Dr Sheehan said that there is a “pent up energy and a pent up frustration” about getting back to normal and said that as each week passes, and more people are vaccinated against Covid-19, “things do get safer”.

“The big concern with large crowds is that they could become superspreader events — I know people are frustrated and they want to enjoy the good weather and their options for going out are very limited at the moment, but we’re nearly there — another couple of weeks and that will hopefully change.

“What we really don’t want to see at this stage is the numbers starting to go up, where we have to introduce local lockdowns or delay further opening up of society which would be really frustrating at this stage of the game,” he said.

Dr Sheehan said that as society re-opens, it will be possible for people to socialise in safer environments.

“I know outdoor dining and things are opening up next week — that might take a bit of that frustration away from people and allow people to mingle and socialise in a more safe environment.”

Cork was not the only county to report large crowds gathering at the weekend, with similar reports coming from Dublin and Galway. At the weekend, chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan blasted the “enormous crowds” who gathered in parts of Dublin, saying it was what the country “does not need” after making so much progress pushing down cases of Covid-19.

HSE chief clinical officer Dr Colm Henry warned that the gatherings could “exploit our weakest position” if large groups of unvaccinated people are coming together. Speaking on Newstalk Breakfast he said: “Younger people, for the most part, did their best to protect their older citizens. A huge acknowledgement is required by all of us to them… they’ve suffered from isolation and lost opportunities in life.

“But some of the scenes looked like V-Day, as if the virus had surrendered. This virus doesn’t surrender.

“It exploits our weakest position — and our weakest position of course is those who are unvaccinated. It exploits congested gatherings, and certainly situations where there is alcohol.

“This is not V-Day… it’s a longer war.”

Active patrols 

Gardaí said in a statement that they actively patrolled and engaged with large crowds congregating in public spaces around the country over the weekend and said that while no significant public order issues were reported, a number of public order arrests were made, comparable to pre-Covid-19 weekend activity. They said that the management of local public spaces is primarily a matter for the relevant local authority and that where crowds gather An Garda Síochána’s responsibility is preserving public order and preventing and investigating any criminal offence which occurs.

“As public health regulations continue to be reduced and activity begins to normalise An Garda Síochána continues to remind the public of the ongoing public health guidelines, which include not to gather in large groups, maintain social distancing and wearing of face coverings in crowded public spaces.”

It added: “An Garda Síochána continues to appeal to the public to avoid crowded areas and large gatherings; take personal responsibility to protect yourself and others, wear face coverings in open spaces, and maintain social distancing. The wearing of face masks outdoors and social distancing are public health guidelines and are not penal regulations.

“An Garda Síochána has been consistent from the start in our response to the Covid-19 pandemic based on our tradition of policing by consent.

“In respect of regulations, which are declared to be Penal Regulations under the Health Act 1947 as amended, An Garda Síochána will adopt the approach of the Four Es which will see gardaí engage, explain, encourage, and as a last resort, enforce.”

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