Mayor of Listowel MD Cllr Michael Foley (FG) has warned that people need to stop stigmatising the COVID-19 virus as it adds fuel to the fire of an already-dangerous situation for the Listowel Electoral Area – now one of the worst-hit in the entire country.
Latest figures reveal North Kerry as an outlier for the disease on the west coast, with the incidence rate in the Listowel Electoral Area now riding at twice the national average.
It’s a far cry from the situation just over the county bounds in the Newcastle West LEA, where the rate is roughly half that of the national figure.
162 cases of the virus were detected in the Listowel Electoral Area between October 6 and October 19, giving a rate of 565 cases per 100,000 people.
In West Limerick meanwhile, the rate is 153.2 per 100,000; where just 42 people tested postive for COVID in the same period.
Infection rates in the Listowel electoral division – which constitutes the greater part of North Kerry – now far outstrip all but two border districts; Belturbet and Ballyjamesduff in County Cavan. It’s believed that most of the virus is concentrated in and around the heaviest population centre of the electoral area in Listowel.
Social attitudes and demographics are now fanning the flames of COVID locally, according to local representatives and medics. Mayor Foley told The Kerryman that people showing symptoms are now fearful of coming forward for testing because they are embarrassed to say they have the virus.
“I’m finding that there is a stigma attached to people getting the virus that shouldn’t be there. People feel others may be looking at them saying, ‘they weren’t obeying the rules’. This is worrying and it is totally wrong,” he said.
He warned this could further fan the flames in the exponential rise of cases.
“What will happen if this continues is that they’ll get symptoms and not tell anyone.
“That must stop.
“We must live our lives, and sometimes you can be unfortunate enough to come in contact with someone who has it, and who may not even know themselves they have it.
“There is nothing stigma-related about this. People are worried about this virus as everything in our lives is affected. If people just stick to the rules, we’ll come out of it and have a good Christmas,” he said.
Listowel GP Dr Donal Daly has meanwhile said he has been contacted regarding ‘dozens of cases’ in recent weeks, adding that the absence of a HSE testing centre in Listowel might be exacerbating the problem as people are not able to travel to Tralee for important tests.
“There are certainly cases where patients have been unable to get to the test centre in Tralee because they don’t have transport,” Dr Daly said.
“Taxis and public transport are unable to carry them if they are COVID-19 positive. They also may not have the funds to take the bus. As a result, they are missing out on appointments in Tralee for tests that you would imagine, if a centre were available in Listowel, they would be attending,” Dr Daly said.
The matter had been raised at Kerry County Council by local Sinn Féin Cllr Tom Barry last week as he sounded a warning over the lack of testing facilities for the virus in the electoral district.
He called on the HSE to establish a mobile testing unit that could travel between Listowel, Ballybunion, Tarbert and surrounding villages, as many people don’t have cars and would put others at risk by getting driven into the testing centre in Tralee.
He feared the HSE was not getting a true handle on the spread of the virus locally as a result, at a time when, he said, ‘everyone knows someone who has contracted it’.
Trade-wise, shops that are permitted to open are doing their best under the debilitating Level Five restrictions.
But there is a steely determination to keep going.
Chairperson of the Retail Group of Listowel Chamber Alliance Paul O’Connor explained that plans are in place to introduce a ‘Shopping in Listowel’ brand in the run-up to Christmas.
“It’s been extremely tough on every business,” Paul said.
“We’re currently working with Kerry County Council to introduce our own ‘Shopping in Listowel’ brand.
“It’s just to encourage people to shop local and help businesses in their area.
“All we can do is stay positive. People are fatigued, but they are also defiant,” Paul said.